by Jean Lehn Epp, Interim Coordinator of Youth Ministry Resources - Christmas can be a very busy time in the life of the church. Energy is spent on rituals in worship, preparations with children to retell the birth story of Jesus, and so many unique traditions that are a part of marking this season special. We can so easily get caught up in the frenzy going on around us to prepare our church life and our home life for Christmas. What are we bringing to the Christmas season if it looks the same as what is going on everywhere else? Encouraging the time of advent to be a time of reflecting and waiting is not that easy. Young adults who are in post secondary educational settings are feeling the stress of end of term assignments and looming exams while youth may be expected to take on more hours at work to accommodate the busy shopping season. How are you creating space and nurturing a season of reflection and preparation for youth and young adults that is focused on our inner spirit?
Make time to read and explore the radical story of a pregnant unwed teen and her fiancé saying “yes” to God.
Advent is an invitation to really look at the birth stories of Jesus in the gospels with new eyes. Youth think they know the story of Jesus from years of participating in Christmas pageants. Make time to read and explore the radical story of a pregnant unwed teen and her fiancé saying “yes” to God, the vulnerability of God taking on life as a baby, the poor and classless shepherds given the gift of a celestial message, the grief Herod caused so many parents, and the outsider wisemen humbling themselves before Jesus with gifts. Engaging in the depth of the Christmas story invites youth to consider how Jesus comes into their lives in its complexity and awesomeness.
As youth grow and mature in their awareness of self and how they are interconnected to others, Christmas is a great time to encourage the expansion of their circles of relating. So many messages we are getting from our culture are focused on “me” and “my tribe”. Our generosity is focused on those with whom we share a close connection. Being intentional about introducing youth to others who would like to enjoy Christmas as they do can widen their circle of caring.
Be intentional about reframing Christmas by:
- Exploring different ways to give gifts. Encourage a giving project alongside your secret Santa gift exchange by having them bring two gifts, one for the exchange and one to donate.
- Volunteer with your group at a local MCC or other thrift store. Allow for time to shop at the thrift store for a secret Santa gift to be exchanged. Make it a challenge with the price limit being a $1 or $2. Talk about what it is like to shop if you are on a budget, the impact of so much unwanted stuff or our responses of gratitude or ingratitude when we are given a gift.
- Decorate a tree at church with new items that will be donated like socks, mittens, hats, etc. Learn about the organization and create a challenge for the rest of the church to match what the youth donate.
- Have the youth and the church donate items and food to create stress reducing care packages for those who are post secondary students. Create homemade cards to let them know you are keeping them in your thoughts and prayers.
- Adopt a family or families through your local social services organization and be specific about the items you would like the youth and church to donate. Arrange to deliver items as a group if appropriate.
- Consider carolling as a part of your youth Christmas party. Visit seniors from the church or the community around the church with random acts of carolling.
- Games are great ways to build community with a group and can be flexible enough to be done intergenerationally as well as with a group of people who don’t know each other very well. Check out these team games to break the ice at your next Christmas event.
- KAIROS has authored worship materials to be used for the advent season to draw our attention to climate action and the impact of climate injustice on immigration, children, indigenous peoples and women. In, Epiphany: Listen to the Children, A Worship Resource, attention is given to hear the voices of children as well as offering ways to take action
- Encourage youth and churches to explore giving the gift of time and creativity this year. Nurture involvement in your community during the Christmas season through 11 Ways Your Church Can Engage Your Community this Christmas.