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
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,