It’s Christmas vacation! And I begin to have some quiet moments now that grading is done for my squad of 80-something students. I realize now that there is a profound difference between life as a full-time administrator/part-time teacher, and a full-time teacher. Administrative life takes a rather large emotional/stress drain as one deals with various and sundry crises day-in-day-out. But that role also provided some significant (though perhaps not adequate “think-time”) to write. The full-time teacher, on the other hand, has less significant think-time due to teaching and grading for 87 students, but also near zero stress at managing life crises of families that manifest as bad student behavior and conflict in our community. But . . . with a teaching break, some thoughts emerge in the quiet.  

First, some thoughts on “identity.”

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we as individuals and as a people? Do we have the power to “self-identify”? Or is this a realm belonging only to the One who causes all things to exist? These thoughts come as I complete a study of John’s Gospel with a focus on Jesus’ “I am” statements. Jesus has a right to say who He is, since most fundamentally, He simply “IS” as the great “I AM.”

We do indeed have an identity — we are made (note the passive form of the verb) in the image of God — imago Dei. But we now live in a world where we are told by “the world” that people can, indeed must, choose their own identity. People claim to “re-make” themselves or re-invent themselves. Yes, we have returned once again to The Garden where, like Adam and Eve, people strive to be god in their own sphere. This is a new form of the original sin: The desire to be god ourselves, to submit to no one, especially not to The One who made us. But everything around us (in a sane world) tells us we are made, shaped, and receive identity from God rather than being sovereign beings who can employ enough force to carve out our own destiny.

Of course, this is where existentialism and nihilism depart most radically from historic theism — when you “kill God” or somehow convince yourself that He does not exist, then all that is left is . . . you. At that point, choosing an identity is not a luxury, it becomes a brutal necessity of survival. How much pain, confusion, and conflict such thinking has created from Eden even to our own cultural moment. 

How much better to be loved (again, note the passive verb) and be called (again, we are the passive recipient of the action of God!) as a child belonging to the One is All in All. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, has the power — indeed the necessary right — to self-identify as “light of the world,” and “bread of life,” and “resurrection and life,” and “the way, truth, and life,” and more. We, as profoundly dependent and contingent beings, must humble ourselves before the Great I AM, to seek who we are in the light of the truth of who He has made us to be.

At this time of year, as we celebrate Advent and look forward to Christmas, we are reminded in Philippians 2 that Jesus, as the eternal Word, forever dwelling in felicity and eternal self-satisfaction in the mystery of the Trinity, . . . this Jesus humbled Himself, indeed emptied Himself (what a mystery that kenosis!); He left behind (again in some profoundly mysterious sense) His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and so much more. He took on flesh, and came not as a warrior, conquering king, but as a fragile and vulnerable baby in Bethlehem. Further, He humbled Himself becoming a servant, and willingly submitted to the humiliation of death on the Cross. Indeed, Mary, as Simeon warned, “a sword will pierce through your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

Come, let us adore Him.