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

Turning Toward Light

Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. – John 1:3-5

Dear Gatherers,

Especially for church nerds like me, the leap from Thanksgiving’s noisy gratitude to Advent’s somber season of expectation can feel abrupt. That’s because our calendars are out of sync. The daily calendar sets New Year after Christmas; the Christian calendar places it four weeks before Christmas. It makes more sense, I think, for Thanksgivingto be the year’s final holiday—a time to count our blessings before the promises of Christmas are newly reborn in us.

It seems right to pause and recall goodness we’ve shared over the previous year before taking on Advent’s challenges, turning our thoughts to this amazing origin story that draws and holds us together all year long. At Gather, we’re grateful for the wide range of beliefs and life experiences and expectations binding us together. That’s a miracle worthy of gratitude all by itself.

It’s only right that we each tell the Jesus story our own way. That’s what the Gospel writers did. Matthew looked at Jesus as a long-awaited king. Luke saw him as miraculously embodied divinity. Mark presents Jesus as God’s chosen child named at baptism. And John relates to Jesus as a cosmic life-giving light that cannot be conquered. They are all correct, and that’s the point. What each of us sees in Jesus is precisely who we need Jesus to be. We gather in thanksgiving and set out to journey together through Advent, seeking light, knowing it will not look or be understood exactly in the same way for everyone. And because this communal journey of unique perspectives is a defining moment, we claim it as a new work in us, a new era in our community, a new year.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Thanksgiving and Advent enable us to confess our needs and be grateful for goodness and fix our eyes on greater things to come. They’re tied together.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday’s special Advent worship on YouTube at 5pm CST. But most of all, Happy New Year!

With much love,

Pastor Tim