I love everything about it.
I love the anticipation.
I love the Hope.
I love the lyrics to traditional Christmas music.
I love celebrating Jesus.
I love the story.
I love ALL the details.
I love the characters in the story.
I love the journey.
I love it, love it, love it.
And I LOVE sharing it with others.
So I approached my first Christmas as a full time Youth Pastor with a great deal of zeal!! I may have bit off more than I could chew a few times, but God provided. God always provides.
I wanted the students to consider Christmas in a new way. I wanted them to really consider the miraculous amount of detailed events that had to occur in order for the prophesies to be fulfilled--in order for The SAVIOR OF THE WORLD to enter as a humble, tiny, fetus growing in Mary's womb.
The story alone is captivating.
I mean think about it! Even if you didn't BELIEVE--or imagine you'd never heard the story before--and then someone hands you a book, maybe you think it is just a novel, another juicy piece of fictional entertainment.
Wow. Great story.
And that 'great story' feeling goes to an unimaginable level when you team it with the power of two words...
I get Holy Spirit Bumps just writing that. (I'll save it for another blog post, but I am convinced my 'goose bumps' are brushes of the Holy Spirit). Sometimes driving down the road, cleaning my house, or at work in my office I will whisper into the world "I believe."I think the importance of uttering those words with conviction and certainty is so important. Romans 10 says that those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts will be saved. Whenever I say, out loud, "I believe", I feel a closeness with the Holy Spirit. It's an excellent way to begin a quiet time with The Lord or to practice encountering Him in your every day moments.
I think I may be getting off track. :)
Back to the point:
So I began to seek The Lord in prayer and through friends for creative ways to celebrate the Christmas season.
First, God gave me a vision--but it was a bit blurry. Something that we would do where we all had a little part in making something bigger and beautiful when all of our parts were put together. Much like the Christmas story--so many little thing, even little people, who played a role in God's amazing story of Jesus' birth and life. I went to lunch with Becky Steketee, a college sponsor for the Youth Group and a dear friend of mine. I began to tell her what I was imagining, something 'mosaic' like. She helped cast the vision and then she said the magic words, "I have a huge roll of canvas. You want some of it?"
I took her up on her offer and started with a piece of canvas roughly 5ft X 5ft.
I hung it up on the wall. Projected a picture on to it and traced it with a pencil.
I then cut the project into 49 equally sized pieces. (7 across x 7 down)
I laid all the pieces out and wrote in pencil in each space what color it should be painted.
On Wednesday night I gave a brief devotional about the details of Christmas and of our lives and how we serve an immaculate & detailed God.
Then the students each took one or a few of the canvas squares and got to painting.
I did not show or tell the students what the image would be when it was all put together.
When they came the next Sunday or Wed they got to see the finished product!
This is hanging in the foyer outside the sanctuary.
I used fishing line to leave the spaces in between the pieces. I really liked this aesthetic.
It took a lot longer than I ever would have imagined to put all these pieces together, but God is awesome and faithful and it all worked out!
The people loved it and I got lots of positive feedback.
God also gave me a word for what the 2nd December Wed night should hold. The word was "stations". That was all I had to start with but I knew that each 'station' would represent a different character or element in the Christmas story. I typed up whatever came to me as ideas for the station and made a list. I sent out my idea to all of my sponsors and youth ministry committee. I was feeling lost because God was giving me this huge vision but I didn't know how to pull off the details. I said a specific prayer, asking God to provide me with at least one person who could help me pull this off. Then I sent out the list of stations to Erica Haude, one of my dearest most WONDERFUL friends, for her input and help doing one of the write-ups for one of the stations. She offered to not just do 1, but 2 of the stations, AND offered to come help me set up the day of. God heard me and met my need so that He could be glorified.
We transformed the youth room into a reverent and somber place with 7 stations.
The stations included...
Advent: Students were invited to reflect on the 4 Words associated with advent. Hope. Love. Joy. Peace. and correlating scriptures.
Then they could write on the canvas one or all of the following things:
I have HOPE because...
Jesus' LOVE is...
I experience JOY when...
I have PEACE because...
The Wise Men: These men searched for Jesus for 2 years! And their only guidance was The Star. For two years they believed and hoped and KEPT GOING--they didn't let anything get in the way of their journey. Students were invited to sit around a 'pretend bonfire' and reflect on their lives. They were then challenged to write down sin in their life that was getting in the way of their journey towards and with Jesus. They then symbolically ripped the paper into shreds and dropped it into bowls placed inside the "fire pit".
The actual collection of papers shredded into pieces was much larger than this. I started cleaning it all up and then thought, 'What am I doing!? I need to take a picture of this! THIS is FREEDOM!" So imagine overflowing bowls of student-shred papers--students breaking free from sin because they want to pursue Jesus unhindered!
Gifts: We receive a lot! At this station students spent some time considering all they have been given in their life in comparison to what they have given away. In the Spirit of Jesus' gift to us, students had the opportunity to sign their name in commitment to GIVING in 2013. The poster read "I will GIVE." and it is covered with the signatures of junior high and high school students. I have it hanging in the room to remind them.
Shepherds: What a cool night for them! Chilling in their dark field with their sheep when an ANGEL appears to them saying he has some good news FOR THEM. He then sends them to go SEE the MESSIAH... the LONG AWAITED MESSIAH... and then they not only get to see just one Angel but a MULTITUDE OF HEAVENLY HOSTS. We closed off an area with black vinyl table cloths and made it as much like a dark night as we could. We then used a little toy that cast stars all around to really make it feel like a starry night. After students read the story of the shepherds in Luke they got to take a turn sitting inside of our 'makeshift starry night field' and consider what it would have been like to be one of those shepherds. I mean REALLY IMAGINE it.
When they came out they sat by this little desk and "Tweeted" as if they were one of those shepherds and had just experienced all of those things!
Some of their 'Tweets':
@everyonewhohastwitter I just saw the most INCREDIBLE sight ever! An Angel appeared to me from the night sky & brought to me the greatest news of all. Jesus has been born and I am invited to go see him! #trulyamazing
I just got the news. Is it true? The Messiah is born. #whathappensnow #humbled
@Shepherdguy123: I was w/ my sheep 2nite when God blessed me w/ the most amazing, terrifying thing that ever happened: an Angel appeared to tell me theSAVIOR OF THE WORLD WAS BORN!! #boom
What?! So an angel just told me a messiah has been born. Like SON OF GOD. wow! #amazing
I have witnessed #Greatness
Jus saw an angel of God! Going to see Jesus Christ! #lifechanged #excited #nervous
Mary/Joseph: There was a Mary station for the ladies & a Joseph station for the gentlemen. At these stations students considered what it might have been like to be one of these individuals. At the Joseph station, young men wrote prayers to God considering what God sees when he looks at them. I assured them in the instructions that He sees his creation and that he loves them endlessly, but I challenged them to consider whether or not he sees someone who is willing to follow Him-no matter the cost--just as Joseph did. They sealed these prayers in envelopes and wrote their names on the outside. I plan to return the letters at Easter time.
This is an excerpt from the instructions at The Mary Station (just to give you an idea): "There are a few envelopes lying on the table here. They include different scriptures or reflections about Mary. Read some or all of them & reflect on Mary’s story—reflect on her journey. There are so many beautiful parts! But there are so many terrifying parts, as well. For one she was encountered by an Angel! Also, she got pregnant without ever having sex and it had the potential to sabotage her marriage to her beloved Joseph. Another thing is she then had to travel hundreds of miles on a donkey’s back when she was just about to give birth, at somewhere around 15 years old! Away from her mother and her family and her home. BUT, she WAS carrying the Christ child, and I can’t imagine a greater blessing! She gave birth to JESUS."
Then the girls took pieces of paper and either wrote a letter TO Mary or wrote a journal entry as if they WERE Mary. These were also sealed in envelopes with their names on the outside. I will return these to them, as well.
Baby Jesus: This station contrasted two images--a fragile infant wrapped in clothes lying in a manger and a beaten and bloody man hanging on a cross. They may not have even needed instructions here--the stark contrast of the images alone stirs your heart to consider. The instructions at this station walked individuals through the understanding of a baby--a tiny, precious, innocent, and defenseless baby. A tiny baby that was FULLY GOD. woah. Then they pondered on that same baby growing into a man--still pure and innocent--who CHOSE to save US from our sin--he CHOSE to suffer and die so that we could live. They read Philippians 2:5-11 and reflected on Jesus' mindset. Jesus, who "made himself nothing" so that we could be saved. Students wrote out commitments they felt Jesus was calling them to--ways they could imitate Jesus by giving of themselves--their time, money, and love--emptying themselves so they can bring Christ's LIFE to those all around them.
Having had the opportunity to read their "tweets" and their unsigned prayers has been powerful & moving. God has used them to speak to me--to give me vision for the group--to see the areas they need encouragement and the areas they need practical application.
December was incredible this year. It was a lot of work--and I was very tired--but these two nights together were very meaningful.
The painting project was done just by high school students.
But the stations were done by both groups--I was SO PROUD of my junior high students. They handled the stations with so much maturity and respect. God was at work! Isn't it incredible what a little effort can do?! God gave the vision, God made it happen, and he took our hands and helped us produce something spiritually moving for our students. There was so much good feedback and I fully give God all the glory. It was only by Him.