Because I work with young people, I have the privilege of never taking anything for granted—even church. I work with people at that stage of life when they are just figuring out who they are and who they want to become, and nothing is sacrosanct when you’re trying to figure out the world.
A lot of people bemoan the fact that kids drop out of church when they reach teenage-hood. Well, to be honest, we can’t ask them to stay if we don’t have any reasons for it–nothing is a given when you’re 15. If you’re going to do something, you need to know why.
So, I’m constantly asking myself the question:
Why do we do this? Why be Christian? Why does it matter?
I do this for a few reasons. First, because our religious commitments (or non commitments) are a big deal. We ought to know why we have them, and why we do what we do. Second, because without the constant questioning, we run the risk of relying too much on stagnant, even idolatrous answers (like, “just because”). Third, because my wondering and questioning helps others around me form a vocabulary and a comfort around dialogue on this topic.
It is good to ask why. It is healthy to ask why, it is essential to our relationship with God to ask why.
There is a well-respected Youth Ministry book called The Godbearing Life that has been an important guide to me in the past months. The premise of the book is to call youth ministry away from flashy programs and cutting-edge curricula and to turn it more towards being a place where God is born. Kids have enough stuff to do, but what they crave is God—and remarkably, they’re not unlike adults. We’ve got lots of stuff to do, and we need some God.
I don’t mean fire and brimstone. I don’t mean touchy feely crap. I mean intentionality, thoughtfulness, thankfulness, and an attitude of worship in real relationship. I mean making room for moments when the big picture hits you in the face.
The word “Godbearer” is an English translation of theotokos, an ancient title for Mary, the Mother of God.
It is she who ‘bore’ the incarnation, and literally brought God into the world through a lived faith. This book calls youth minsters to be those who bear their own incarnation and nurture others into doing the same.
You can imagine that I was especially excited to be reading this book in Advent. Advent is the season when we remember Mary, the theotokos, who also bore God into the world. It is a season when we too prepare the way for incarnation in the world. In Advent I’m reminded that this book is absolutely for all ministers–not just Youth Ministers–and all Christians–not just ministers.
Christianity is a religion about incarnation, about God being in the world through a human life. Most importantly, the Christian religion is about a community that continued to ‘bear’ that incarnation through communion and remembrance.
All Christians are called by God to bear their own incarnation, and all Christians are called by God to help others incarnate God as well: to put some God into all that stuff we have to do.
So, for me, in Advent, that’s the answer to the question Why?
Right now, the Holiday Season is heavily upon us: family gatherings and advertisements, holiday parties and budget deficits, gifts and travel expenses. Amidst the joy and gratitude of the season, there’s also a lot of stress and anxiety and the ever-present pressure to buy-buy-buy to keep the economy from imploding. We see it on the news all the time (if we can still stand to watch it). They constantly report on what Holiday sales will be like, and whether or not it will sustain us through another anxious year of attempts to stimulate the economy.
The Holidays can be a rough time for a lot of people. We all know it. It’s a mess out there.
The season of Advent reminds us to be bearers of God, to be people that allow God’s work and word to be present in the world.
We stop, as the days get shorter and shorter, to pause and remember that God chooses us, just like he chose that homeless unmarried teenage mom, to be bearers of God’s peace and love in a frantic and painful world. To choose to be Christian is to choose to make room to rejoice, reflect, and relate to people as incarnations of God.
To choose to be Christian is to try to become a Godbearer too, to make space for God to do God’s work through us.
Especially in the middle of the holidays, we make room for Advent worship–to remember why we do this, to remember that we are a faith of incarnation, to prepare the space in ourselves that helps us remember God in all the stuff we have to do.
[A version of this post appeared in the Hamline Church Newsletter for December. The Godbearing Life is by Kenda Creasy Dean.]