For those of us in ministry, especially student ministry, this season couldn’t be any bigger or busier. Gathering students for Advent readings on Sunday morning. Gathering parents and students for the annual progressive dinner that ends with the most complicated gift swap you can imagine. Then our weekly gatherings are thrown in the middle of all the business. Lots of gatherings.
In all of this, how do we make it meaningful? How do we disciple in this crazy time? Is it possible to make this more than just a Jesus birthday celebration?
As we land in this first week of Advent, these two scripture passages are taking root in my heart gently, but powerfully, for how my students and I can approach this Christmas season a little different this year.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Immanuel, (God with us). Matthew 1:23
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.Luke 2:7
Taking the Red-Eye
I remember my first red-eye. It was my first big flight by myself, and I was moving to London. I got to my seat and was thrilled to find out I had a window seat. The flight departed Atlanta and arrived in London. We took off with the sun setting in the background. The next thing I remember was hearing the flight attendant tell us to put our seats in the upright position and tray tables away.
We were there. I had slept through the whole flight. I had been anticipating watching the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean for months, and in a moment, I missed the sunrise and arrived at my new home. I had gone to sleep in America and awoken in a new country—a temporary home.
Jesus, in a moment, was with us in the flesh. It had been talked about for generations and generations. The promise of a savior, God himself, would be coming to save his children. And now, that time had come. The people of the world went to sleep while Jesus was with his heavenly father and woke up to Jesus there with them in the flesh. Jesus took the red-eye to be with us.
When I landed in London, I had as many bags to claim as Delta would allow you to bring, and they all were filled to capacity and weight limit. See, I wasn’t simply going to London to visit; I was moving there. Of course, I wouldn’t be there my whole life, but I would be living there for an entire year.
Jesus didn’t simply come for a moment, a quick visit. Sure, maybe in God’s view of time it was quick, but for humanity on the earth, this was an extended stay. It was the beginning of a thirty-three year long extended stay. Jesus’ birth may have just been the beginning, but this wasn’t something to overlook. Yes, Jesus showed up as a newborn baby, but he brought with him, from the very beginning, his full power and authority as God. He didn’t just come to spend some time with us; his bags were fully packed and at capacity. He brought all of himself to us.
Mind the Gap
Shortly after getting off my red-eye, I made my way to the Tube—London’s subway system. I thought something was wrong after buying my ticket and taking the escalator underground. This disembodied male voice constantly repeated, Mind the gap. He didn’t stop saying it. What’s the gap??? It sounded like code for something, but no one else seemed to be outwardly freaking out like I was in my head.
The gap happened to be that small distance from the platform to the subway car. Over time, many people had gotten their feet stuck, fallen into the cars awkwardly, and simply been injured because of this little gap. The gap wasn’t the problem; it was people who overlooked this step and weren’t thinking about it.
Jesus. Immanuel. God with us. And while Jesus didn’t physically stay with us for an eternity, his time here could not be overlooked. Not a quick trip, but not quite a lifetime. Only thirty-three years. Just a small gap of time. But in that gap of time while he was here, Jesus poured out all of who he was for every single one of us.
Mind the Gap.
Like I said at the beginning, these scriptures have impacted me heavily going into this Christmas season, and they did so because they focused my thoughts and heart. So, in return, I want to challenge you in the same way I have been challenged this Advent season.
First: Where is God calling you to go this holiday season? This doesn’t have to be a trip on a plane, but maybe God is calling you outside of your comfort zone. Remember that God doesn’t call us to places, but he calls us to people. He calls us to join in the work that God has already begun work in. Maybe he’s calling you to leave a place of selfishness and enter a place of presence.
Second: Jesus didn’t come for a simple moment but for an extended stay. We know that Jesus’ work extends throughout the year. As we look at the where God is calling us, the challenge is to be present longer than the Christmas season. We can make a difference in quick, small ways, but I believe God is calling us to go and stay awhile. What does that look like for you?
Finally: As Jesus made the journey to us, making an extended stay, he also gave all of himself in that gap of time he was here. As you realize where God is calling you to this Christmas season, and as you think about how you can be present longer than simply these forty plus days, there is one more thing to ask God’s guidance in: How can you be fully present where you are going and during your stay? How can you mind the gap of this call on your life with everything you have to all those around you?
May this year’s Advent season be a reminder that we all are to be the same gift of love, grace, and presence we saw modeled in our savior Jesus, God with us.
Pierce Drake is the Pastor of Students at Providence Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. He has served in student ministry for nine years, both locally and abroad in the U.K. He is married to his wife, Claire, and they have the best miniature Australian Shepherd, Pippa.
Holy Week is an important time in the Church. While we can’t be with our youth and families in person right now, we can still resource them on their personal spiritual journeys as we all journey toward the Cross this Easter. We’ve provided a Palm Sunday lesson for you and 6 daily devotionals you can send your students Monday - Saturday of Holy Week.
How can we move young people towards a life of fulfillment in the midst of our consumer and achievement-driven culture? What does the “good life” look like through the lens of the Gospel in areas of wealth and in areas of poverty?