Monthly Archives

December 2022

Startled Awake

Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the Lord’s glory has shone upon you. Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you. – Isaiah 60:1-2


Dear Gatherers,


We’re approaching the halfway point in our Advent journey. To get to its true value, we must dive beneath the high-contrast dark/light, waiting/receiving, seeking/finding symbols to locate them in our own contexts. And the journey between Advent’s extremes can be very different for each one of us, depending on when, where, and how we find our way.


Isaiah’s wake-up call to Jerusalem—coming out of a 70-year nightmare of foreign captivity—resonates with anyone who loves Christmas hymns about angel choirs rousing a weary world out of its slumber. What Isaiah and the carols don’t mention, however, is how unsettling being awakened by bright light can be. The Advent call to rise and shine is a kind of “glory alarm” that startles. It may take time to adjust our sight and get our minds clear before the promises of hope, love, joy, and peace come into view.


One my favorite Advent companions, the 20th-century mystic and pastor Howard Thurman, captures this sensation. “There are times when the light burns, when it is too bright, or when it is too revealing. Somehow I must accustom myself to the light and learn to look with steadiness on all that it discloses. I will not yield to the temptation to regard the light in me as being all the light there is… Even in darkness I will learn to wait for the light, confident that it will come to cast its shaft across my path at the point of my greatest and most tragic need” (“I Seek Truth and Light,” Meditations of the Heart).


Advent’s wake-up call is a very specific promise to each of us in our respective contexts. Let us arise to the light, peer into its brilliance, and patiently wait for our eyes adjust to new sights around us, knowing the light we possess is not all the light there is. Light often breaks into our lives from unusual places and unexpected sources in unpredictable ways—kind of like the God of Creation showing up in a borrowed cow crib surrounded by perfectly imperfect strangers. The glory alarm is shining. Our light has come. Time to open our eyes!


With much love,

Pastor Tim

Not Our Kind, Dear

The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children. – John 1:11-12

Dear Gatherers,

My father’s parents were extraordinary, complex people. Both were full-throated believers who took their faith seriously. Yet they were also products of a Southern culture with peculiar ideas about “knowing your place.” All it took was catching Big Mama’s wince to read her disdain for anyone she deemed unsavory. She would whisper “NOKD” under her breath and look us in the eye to make sure we heard. “Not our kind, dear,” which meant, “Be friendly, but don’t befriend.” What looks like rank hypocrisy to us she mistook for civil protocol.

John’s mention that the light—his favorite metaphor for Christ—was NOKD is heart-wrenching. Especially during Advent and Christmastide’s celebration of a fully human, fully divine Savior, rejection sounds ridiculous. Who doesn’t love a baby? Who wouldn’t welcome God into the world? Our thoughts leap to Isaiah’s song of the Suffering Servant: “He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well. Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him” (Isaiah 53:3). NOKD.

Who were these unwelcoming people? What sorts of delusions distorted their sense of self-importance? On one hand, it’s a tragedy that Jesus doesn’t get a hero’s welcome by the “right crowd.” But it’s really a blessing because their absence makes room for a delightfully unorthodox band of outsiders.

Not one person who welcomes Jesus to the world should be there. He’s born into a culture that condemns occult practices and views strangers with suspicion. Yet his most illustrious guests are foreign astrologers and magicians. No politicians or prelates show up to kneel at the manger. That opportunity is granted to a motley night crew of shepherds. The extended family God chooses isn’t a well-heeled, well-connected brood with famous names. It’s an unknown country priest and his barren wife, their poor (but prodigiously smart) niece and her blue-collar fiancé. They’re all NOKD—which makes them the perfect kind for Jesus.

“Those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children.” That’s the Advent destination and we’re going to get there by traveling beside these perfectly imperfect NOKD guests. No doubt we’ll find reflections of ourselves along the way, which will make our arrival at Bethlehem all the richer. Join us this Thursday for the first in our three-part series, “Outside/In.” We meet at 7:30 via Zoom. Make this your gift to yourself this season!

With much love,

Pastor Tim