Out of the 12 bins filled with Christmas decorations at our house, my favorite thing of all is the Christmas village. Ever since I was a child, I loved carefully choosing the location of each building, each carriage, each caroler. Still to this day as a grown adult, I find myself drawn to the Christmas village sections of the department stores with hopes of finding the perfect addition to our family’s growing village – maybe a new candy shop or toy store, an old fashioned filling station or a beautiful snow-covered country church building. I love to create and enjoy the peaceful scenes of days gone by, of the way things used to be when everything was right with the world. Things weren’t so busy, people could come together to enjoy one another, and there was a perpetual covering of beautiful snow over everything. I find myself escaping into this world as I create it each Christmas season.
When we read about the shepherds watching their flocks by night 2000 years ago, I suspect they were quite familiar with the harsh realities of this broken world. Their daily experience included dealing with the elements – their rough, leathery skin exposed to the blazing sun and the fierce, cold winds. And they were even avoided by passers-by who walked to the opposite side of the dirt road to steer clear of the stench of both the sheep and the shepherds, themselves. They, too, may have often found themselves dreaming of easier days, when things were just the way they were supposed to be. However, as they scurried to their feet upon regaining their composure at the sight of an angel addressing them, the shepherds no longer found themselves lost in a fairy tale, hoping for the brokenness of their world to be fixed with the beauty and peacefulness of a quaint Christmas village. As the angels announced with shouts resounding through heaven and earth that the One who would bring peace and good will to men had arrived, the shepherds knew once and for all that their only hope for things to be made right again would come through this baby born in a nearby stable.
As my family did our first advent reading this evening, I ended our time by taking them down to our dark family room to stand in the glow of our beautiful Christmas village display. I asked my children what they thought of the scene before them. They talked about it being peaceful and beautiful. They said that they would want to live there. It reminded us of a perfect place. Interestingly, we had just read from the Jesus Storybook Bible the account of the first perfect place that was spoken into existence by the Creator. We then talked about what it will be like when Jesus returns and makes everything perfect again.
The teens in our youth ministries live in a broken world, and deep down they long for things to be made right again. They long for pictures and dreams they have in their head that represent this perfect Christmas village world. For some, their dreams include a healthy relationship with their parents where they feel respected, valued, and heard. For others, this world includes sexual fulfillment where their broken sexuality is made complete. For others, it is a vision of an identity that is complete without being shaped by what others say about them or success in some category. Our teens long for things to be made right again. They desperately want to live in the fairy tale world their hearts long for, separate from the daily pain of brokenness and mess.
What is their only hope? Their hope is the same as my hope, and it is not found in the Christmas village on my fireplace mantel. That world is not a reality, but my longing for that world is an absolute reality. And so it is for the students whom we serve! Their only hope and my only hope is the same hope that the shepherds realized when listening to the angelic chorus sing of the newborn baby in Bethlehem. Unlike all of the counterfeit “Christmas village promises” of the world around us, this baby is the only one who can bring peace in relationships, hope in sexual fulfillment, and joy in identity for today. Beyond that, this baby that the shepherds ran to meet on that starry night will return to earth some day as the ruling King! The longing that I have and the longing that our teens have will be completely filled when Jesus comes back as the King who brings peace on earth in a kingdom that far surpasses that of my favorite Christmas decoration.