Advent is a season of watchfulness, reflectiveness, and anticipation. It was during Advent that the Lord brought me to Him and I was born again. I will tell you this story because many of you also are passionate about youth ministry so this story will be very appropriate for Grace Chapel!
I started Brockton High School in the fall. I loved Brockton High - it was full of different people from different places. I loved the size and the sheer amount of clubs and other activities. I joined the canoe club that my Earth Science teacher led afterschool and it was there that I met a special group of friends that I would have for my entire time in high school.
When I brought them home, my mother was in shock! From all appearances, they might not be impressive looking. In fact they were the most mixed up group of teens you could ever see - a real group of outcasts for sure! My mother was also struggling deeply with both health and emotional problems at this time. As a teen, I always felt like I was in her crosshairs. Immediately, my mother decided my friends were unacceptable and did not want me to hang out with them. Being fourteen, this of course did not go down with me very well and it began a turbulent period of arguing and negativity in my home life. Sadly, the more she fought me, the more I turned to them. Her approach had the opposite effect on me.
The troubled home life really started to affect me in school. I was very sad and started to feel utterly depressed. My friends continued to really try and listen to me when I would share my troubles. I got to the point though that home was no longer a sanctuary to me. I didn't know what I would ever do. To be honest, I even contemplated suicide thinking I could never escape my family. But my ragtag group of friends decided that it was time to join the youth group at the church down the street from my friend Joe's house in Brockton near the Huntington School. So they took me with them one Friday night in October. I was scared and skeptical but I trusted them.
The pastor and his wife were both such kind and gentle people. I am not too sure how much either knew about me when they first met me. They did not pry or prod me for information though. In fact, they sort of let me just be. They served us some snacks then we sat down in the living room at the rectory. Pastor Jim would open the conversation by asking how things were going. Anyone could speak and everyone listened respectfully. The conversations would be completely led by us and we would ponder deep questions about human existence, life and our future.
Additionally, each shared the current worries and troubles on our minds. I opened up before long and shared the whole thing that was going on with my mother. What I always loved was that Pastor Jim would always tell us a Jesus story that related to what we were expressing during the discussion. It amazes me how well he could relate life to Jesus! He knew his Bible very well! Then we would discuss the story for a bit and finally close with prayer - either by Pastor or by us.
Additionally, he would take us roller-skating or bowling. He always picked team oriented activities which encouraged us to interact. I always looked forward to youth group on Friday nights despite what was happening in my home life. It was the light in the darkness. One night during in Advent, I had been expressing my lack of hope for my home problems. After I finished, Pastor Jim told us a Jesus story. He told an Advent story that changed my life. It was the night that I was found!
Pastor started talking about how Mary had been so apprehensive when the angel had appeared to tell her the good news. He started talking about how Joseph was commanded to take Mary as his wife - how obedient he was - the leap of faith he had to take. Then he told us about Bethlehem - a very small town overrun with people due to the census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus. He told us how there was so much angst. People had to travel great distances at great inconvenience. It was a tiny town so there were not enough places to sleep or eat. When people can't sleep and eat, things get real ugly - real fast. There was unrest in the little town of Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph got there. Things were far from perfect! God was there though - he had given a sign of his presence and his hope. The Savior's sign was right there in the form of a star in the East and if people had just bothered to look up and away from what was cluttering their hearts and minds - they could see that God had given them a sign of hope - a way to find faith and salvation. I asked him why the people didn't bother to look up and he said sometimes we get so distracted by our own troubles that we forget God.
On this day, due to this simple story, I had my epiphany! My soul's eyes flew open and the words of Amazing Grace were finally truly meaningful to me. My darkness turned to light and it was truly amazing to realize that God had been there all along waiting patiently for me. I also continue to reflect on how the humble shepherds were picked to see the angels' chorus out in a solitary field. We must also seek out a solitary place this Advent. I realized that God really cares about me even when I am inattentive - distracted by my worldly burden. I was touched deeply to think He had been there all along!
All of us at Grace Chapel know that the Boys and Girls Brigade youth ministry is vitally important. The ripple effect that Minister Alain speaks of is real. I am proof of this. My experience in a church youth group here in Brockton literally changed my life. This was not even my own family church! Pastor Jim would relate Jesus to the daily lives of teens. God made his presence known. I always look up at the sky day or night and it causes me to think of God's quiet presence. Even in the darkness of our lives, there is still light. I HOPE you will have an Advent full of watching. I HOPE you will be like excited children waiting for the celebration of Jesus' birth: the gift of our salvation. I HOPE you will look for God this Advent by making time, space and silence. Remember the following scripture Matthew 7: 7 - "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8"For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."