Who are you when your job and place in society are taken away - what's left that can't be taken away? What is the irreducible hardcore you? What is the you of you? Is all we have the identities that society has given us - our style tribes, our clothing labels, our jobs, our cars, our political choices? Are these like clothes that we pull around our naked selves? Will we shiver and catch cold without them, or be arrested for indecent exposure of the soul?

So who are you going to be today? We're lost in a world full of choices. In the past, who you were was given to you by birth and occupation, and few escaped their place. Now 'who am I?' is a decision we have to make for ourselves every day, and a lot of the time we don't know where to we drift through identities, always acting, reinventing ourselves on the outside but never able to change ourselves on the inside; or we live and die by who other people say we are. We don't know how to define ourselves except by the categories that our society offers us, so we shoehorn ourselves in, grateful for the security of a label, grateful to belong, even if we have to cut off bits of our inner selves to fit in the box...

A lot of us are told we're worthless, and that becomes our identity, tainting everything we do with the stench of failure, making even our virtues or successes seem provisional and temporary in the face of our fundamental loserdom.

Those that have success find that it isn't enough to fill a heart, unless you shrink it...

and when the rest of us find that we don't have the talent for the premier division, or the head office, or the A-levels, we know that we are failures, because success is the only success, and we live out our lives knowing that we were not good enough...

At the beginning of his public ministry, after he had been baptised by John the baptist, Jesus went into the desert to find out who he was if he wasn't going to be a carpenter anymore. Interestingly, Luke in his gospel, puts in Jesus' genealogy, his family tree, at this point - this is how his fellow Jews defined who he was - later,when Jesus starts preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his fellow Nazarenes are outraged at his presumption - who does he think he is, they say, isn't he just Joseph's son? In their society, where family defines who you are, they think they know all about him by knowing his family. So Jesus goes out into the desert, away from the pigeonholes of job and family, to ask God who he really is. And by the end of the 40 days, Satan's repeated question 'if you are the son of God...' tells us that Jesus had found out.

So who does God think you are?

In the desert all the things that we use to define our identities are missing, and we are left with nothing except what we have inside. A lot of us fear that we would find that we had nothing inside, or only fear and pain, and so we never venture into the desert. In the desert there is nowhere to hide, if God comes to us, as he came to Jesus, as he came to Moses, as he came to Jacob, to show us who we really are to him. And we clutch our thin rags of identity to us like armour, and shrink back from his touch - better the little we have, we say, than risk even that being taken away as well.

But those who try to save their life will lose it all, and God needs to strip us naked, in spite of our fear and embarrassment - and if we let him remove these filthy rags, and wash the festering wounds, he will reclothe us as something we never imagined, or only caught glimpses of in dreams and ran after down the High Street, but found that the things we bought could never quite get us there, because we were still wearing the same old stinking underwear underneath - and when we put on the identity God offers us - the one he sewed himself, until his hands bled - we will know that we have become our real selves at last, we have found out who we really are, that we are free, and need never search, lost, through the world again.

And maybe the desert turns out to be a beach, after all, so we make a bonfire of those old rags and watch the sun rise over the ocean...