On Not Being Known


<Listen along by clicking here>

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

On Not Being Known

Let us pray:

Let your light shine again tonight,

Lord God.

That we might not forget your promises.

Your power.


Merry Christmas.

And I mean that.  We think of the word “merry” today as meaning something like, “happy,” but that’s not how that word was originally meant.

The word “Merry” originally meant “strong,” or something like “safe” or “comfortable,” or “comforted.”  In God rest ye merry, gentlemen let nothing you dismay…” the singer was not singing to merry gentlemen.  She was wishing them a safe, comforted Christmas with nothing to fear.

So, Merry Christmas.  Strong Christmas. Comforted Christmas.  I wish you that.

I was told once that grief is the most public journey that you make alone.

I think that’s probably true, though I don’t know firsthand.

I wonder if that’s the hardest thing about grief: before it happens, you don’t know what you don’t know, right?  And then after heartbreak of inhuman proportions strikes, it feels like other people don’t know.

Like they don’t get it.

They try.  With well-meaning words and hugs and invitations to be social.  All important parts of journeying with people going through the stages of grief, of course.

But there’s still a disconnect.  Your pain is not their pain, even if they hurt for you.

I remember walking with a young man as he was dying of AIDS.  I’d go visit him, and he’d squeeze my hand.  I did all the talking.  He was largely unconscious most of the time.

Toward the end the family gathered around and we commended him to God.  His mother cried on my shoulder.  His friend kneeled at the bed.

About an hour later I was walking outside, still pondering the whole process in my heart, and I heard the birds chirping and people walking along the street talking and laughing, and I felt myself getting angry.

Angry at the birds for chirping and singing.  Didn’t they know that a piece of creation just died?

Angry at people, oblivious to what happened, but I was just kind of angry at them for not knowing.  How could they know, of course?  But that kind of rationality didn’t matter.  I wasn’t thinking with my head, I was thinking with my heart, and although I didn’t know Raphael very well, it was broken for him and his family and his friends and his boyfriend…

The part of this passage of John that speaks to me tonight is the part where John says that, “Jesus came to his own, but his own did not know him.”

The “know” there is the Greek katalaben, which is probably better translated like, “grasp” or “seize” than a simple know.

Something more like, “they didn’t get it.”

Which, of course, is why God became enfleshed in the first place, I think: to get it.  To get humanity.  To understand us.

Jesus laughed with the children, and slept on the boat, and was held by his mother, and had brothers, and maybe some sisters, and a father.

And he cried.  He cried because his heart was broken when his brother Lazarus died.

And he cried when his hands were pierced, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He grasped, seized, truly knew what it was like to be made of the dust of the ground, not just to make from dust.

He knew.  He knew, so that God could know.  So that we could know that in our grief, God grieves…because God’s been there, Beloved.  God’s been there.

And this is why the light can shine in the darkness: because only a God who has been there knows the way through it, carrying the light, the torch of hope, that lights the way, that marks the path straight through the tomb and out the other side.

This is, for me, the most beautiful part of our faith.

Our God is not glib.  Our God knows, seizes, grasps what it means to be human, so that God might be able to walk us through the path and transform our pain into something else, in time.

As we head into Christmas, with all the lights shining through the trees, even if our hearts don’t feel like singing, perhaps we can stare at the lights and just imagine them as the light of a God who knows, marking the way through these woods.

Because at Christmas we’re not only reminded that God shows up at the scene of our grief and heartache, but God knows.  And can lead us through.

Because a light shines in the shadows, and the shadows cannot overcome it.

So, indeed, may we all have a merry Christmas.



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