For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.
One of our deepest longings as humans is to be fully known and fully loved.
I officiated a wedding about a year ago and included this statement in my opening remarks. After the ceremony, I was mingling with old friends, reminiscing and such, when a man approached me:
“Fully known and fully loved, huh? I like that. I’m going to think about that some more.”
I was floored. I said nothing for a few seconds. All I could finally manage was, “Thank you.” I knew this man, known him most of my life, actually. That’s why I was bamboozled. You might best summarize his personality as stoic. I’m sure he expresses emotions, I’ve just never seen them. He’s the type who never says more than the moment requires. I have never known him to initiate or sustain a futile conversation. For this man to approach me the way he did and say what he said was an act of courage and faith and vulnerability.
Something about being fully known and fully loved resonated with him that day. It caught him off guard. That’s no small task, FYI. It takes a stealth ninja to surprise folk like him. In some ways, I wonder if his statement was as much as acknowledgment as an encouragement. “You got me, Frank. Well done.” Either way, I received his words as a gift and saw them as proof that this fully known and fully loved stuff is actually universal.
Why did it resonate with him? I’m not sure. But I know why it resonates with me.
Because I know what it costs to have this longing filled. I know I must make friends with vulnerability. I know I must leave the door open for rejection. I know it is risky. Wounds are inevitable.
If brevity is your thing, there’s a word for this full knowing and loving: intimacy.
On the ground level, intimacy refers to the closeness to and care for people and creation. More importantly, intimacy is the only road to love. There is no other way. You can’t give or receive love without closeness and tenderness and care. You just can’t.
The problem with intimacy is that it asks us to expose our insides. You know, those parts of us we wish to hide from the world (our little quirks, our prejudices, our bad thoughts, the fact that we’ve seen every Marvel movie twice and have a Spotify playlist of Justin Bieber songs titled “Jamz”…yes, with a “z”).
For most of us, being fully known is too risky. So we settle for cheap forms of intimacy. I’m talking here about social media, which allures us with the promise of connection and “friends” without closeness and vulnerability.
Promiscuous sex would also qualify, an ancient alternative to true intimacy. Porn is another, possibly the most widespread (and toxic) of modern-day alternatives. There are many others. Cheap intimacy can be almost anything really, so long as it promises closeness and affirmation and belonging without closeness and vulnerability and risk.
If you look at our culture, we’re facing a crisis of intimacy. Most of the problems we experience are symptomatic of intimacy-deficiency. Superficiality. Anxiety. Loneliness. Intolerance. Loss of civility. Lack of compassion and empathy. Dehumanization.
Intimacy is the linchpin that holds humanity together. When we stop drawing closer to one another, the resulting is usually filled by Satan.
When, however, we do the hard work of drawing near to others, we realize we’re all created in God’s image. “It’s hard to hate people up close,” Brene Brown says. It really is. When we look people in the eyes, notice their humanity, realize how much like us they are, this is a powerful drug against the cancerous effects of hatred and racism and injustice.
For our country to reverse our current course and begin to heal, we must repent of the harm we caused ourselves and others by settling for cheap forms of intimacy. And we must commit to coming down from our social media platforms, leaving our echo chambers, and coming close to people.
I’m also aware that we avoid intimacy because we truly don’t believe we’re worthy of love. If we were known, we think, at any real depth, we would stand no chance of love, not even from God. And without first knowing we’re worthy of love, exactly as we are, we can’t possibly have the courage to be intimate with others.
That’s why Advent matters. The Incarnation is proof that God desires intimacy with us. Our Creator knows humans are incapable of loving someone who’s perfect and majestic, so he becomes one of us, lives among us, and dies for us. Folks, this is scandalous stuff.
The scandal is the same God who breathes stars into place desires closeness with you. He deems you worthy of love, and he’s willing to empty himself (I love the Greek word for this in Phil. 2, “kenosis”) to prove it. He’s willing to take a risk, to face rejection from the people he draws near to, because he loves us that much.
Advent fills our deep longing – to be fully known and fully loved. “I know you fully,” God says. “I know every thought and desire, every impulse, and I love you enough to come down from heaven and be with you.”
Intimacy is hard. But it is the only path to love. May we have the courage to embark on the journey.
Take one step towards intimacy and love today. Spend time in prayer and silence, asking God to reveal what this step looks like.
God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for coming close to me, for sending Jesus to become one of us. Intimacy is hard, Father. Fill me with your Spirit. As I move towards intimacy, help me feel your presence and know you are with me. Amen!