Honest Advent: Authentic Joy

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on December 13, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

Philippians 2:5-8

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God

    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

Whenever I go home or to family gatherings, this weird but really common thing happens to me. Let me know if it happens to you as well. When I am back in a place I was in a younger time, I often regress and put myself back into who I was at that time, even though I’m a completely different person now. When I return to my high school to watch a sports game, I’m suddenly back into that headspace. When I go to dinner with my extended family, I immediately take the role I did growing up, quiet, reserved, and sometimes using sarcasm as my defense mechanism. You get the idea. 

My identity, in those situations, becomes lost in the circumstances I find myself in. And so in a way, part of me gets lost, because I’m not holding true to my authentic identity as I know it to be now. 

So let me ask you, If you asked a close friend to say one word that describes you, what word would they use?

All of these are parts of your identity. They’re personality traits and things about you that are valued or stand out. And our identity also evolves, and it shifts sometimes depending on who we’re asking to describe us, which is why it’s important for us to remember that our true identity is in Christ, which is what our passage today teaches us.

This passage in Philippians tells about Jesus’ identity. Likely written by Paul, we are being told about Jesus’ true identity, which is that Jesus is God and also man. It’s almost a contradiction, the way Paul speaks about it, and still is today, being fully God and fully human. 

Verse 6 states clearly that Jesus is God, saying “though he was in the form of God,   did not regard equality with God  as something to be exploited”. In that, it also names that contradiction present. It almost seems like Paul understands the tension that is sure to be present, and the confusion, and for that reason, he calls it out.

When we move on to the next verse, we see that tension, when it’s also stated that Jesus is human. How can this be? And the answer here, is that our identity is made up of many layers, but at its core, we are deeply related to God. So for Jesus to be both divine and human must say something about us as humans, that we too are created in God’s likeness. 

In verse 7, it says that Jesus emptied himself, using the Greek word “kenoo”. This word indicates that Jesus gave something up when becoming human. Jesus came to us, in order to live as a human being among us. He didn’t look like God, or have all the same Divine characteristics, or have all the same knowing as God either. Yet, God was inside of him, Divine and human together. 

While Jesus coming to earth said a lot about Jesus himself, it says more about God and God’s relationship with us than anything. God made the choice to become human, because God cares so much about you. God became vulnerable, through the fallibilities being human brings, in order to become closer to us. Jesus lived how we live, struggled how we struggle, and even died how we die. God made a true sacrifice, by allowing God’s self to be so closely related to our own identities as humans. 

The truth here is, that yes, we were made in the image of God. God decided that each and every one of us would be made in God’s own image. And we can also flip that around. If we were made in the likeness of God, that also means God was made in the likeness of us. Our identities are so deeply connected, intertwined by this divine nature of God that is within each of us. 

To hold one’s identity sacred means believing that our identity, our very being, is sacred. And with that sacredness comes vulnerability, just like God experienced by living among us. Like baby Jesus, each of us have unique vulnerabilities, in need, lost, unsure. And still, we are created in the image of God, a God of gifts, talents, callings, and faith. 

To be vulnerable is to be like God and to be human. We are given a gift of interconnectedness, to God and to God’s people, limited in our abilities, yet deeply loved in a way we cannot fully understand, by a God whose very nature seems to contradict itself. 

Verse 8 says that Jesus humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, which is to say that God lived out this mission of becoming like us. God went so far as to grasp and experience humanity in all its goodness and all its suffering, all so that Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, could really be lived out in real and tangible ways.

When we share our identity with God, like we do, we can experience joy. When we are not caught up in the parts of ourselves that we create to impress, to cover up, or to hide, we experience our truest identity in Christ. And so, those parts of you that are the most authentic and honest and true, that is where your identity in Christ lives. 

I asked our TikTok family last week what part of their identity brought them joy. I invite you to answer that question for yourself in the comments, but in the meantime, here are some of their responses…

  • “For me, the joy comes from accepting and loving myself and knowing that even the things others think are ‘bad’ make me who I am”
  • “My identities, all of them, provide joy through the challenge of learning a deeper understanding of who I am and reaching the fullness of me.”
  • “My passions give me joy, for painting and reading”
  • “I was finally diagnosed with autism at 25. I was finally able to feel joy when I found that out about myself.”
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Being a queer child of God
  • Knowing we all are image bearers of the creator
  • My identity is in knowing who Jesus says that I am. 
  • Finding a community who tells me God loves me, and that I am valid
  • Knowing God has always known me

So what about you? What part of your identity brings you joy?

As we leave today, may we remember that we were created in the likeness of God, and God was created in our likeness too. May we be assured that through the most honest parts of our identity, we can find joy in its truest form, not that everything is perfect, but that we were created through love, and identified as a child of God. And may we be bearers of God’s image in all that we do, remembering the joy that comes from being who we were created to be. 

Let us pray:

Loving Creator, who delights in all our identities. We give you thanks for your assistance in our journeys, and for the ways you provide us with a healthy and gracious community. Keep us safe, giving us protection and comfort for all that is ahead. Help us to show our identity in love, even when it’s hard. In your name we pray, Amen.

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