The mission statement of Life Teen is to “Lead Teens Closer to Christ.” As a youth minister, I really enjoy Advent and Christmas because more than any other time of the year this mission seems clear and maybe even easier to accomplish. For this youth minister at least, how we search for Christ and thus how we lead teens to Christ is pretty clear during these seasons. But all too quickly – it’s over.
Sure, Holy Family, Epiphany, and Baptism of the Lord round out the Christmas Season, but for all intents and purposes, Christmas ends way too fast. Christmas music is off the radio. People take their lights down, and trees are tossed to the curb. After a couple weeks of teens stopping by during the day (or maybe a little time off), everyone goes back to school and back to work. And we are back to regular life again. It seems that people are just biding their time, waiting for spring break and Easter. Things kind of get back to ordinary.
Unfortunately for my ministry, I usually do the same thing. After all this waiting for the mysterious God in Advent and celebrating the baby king at Christmas, Ordinary Time seems like “down time” for our faith. As sad as it sound, it is a break from all this searching for God. After all, it is only ordinary time. The good news is the God doesn’t take a break with us (otherwise we would cease to exist), and for me ordinary time is the perfect time to search for God and lead teens closer to Him. There are two main reasons why I say this:
The Image of God Is Not Simple in Ordinary Time
In Advent, God is the “mysterious, soon to be.” At Christmas, God is a new born baby, the almighty more vulnerable then we can imagine, more near than we could hope for. The image of baby Jesus is easy to get our minds around to explain to teens. We’ve seen a baby. We know what a baby looks like wrapped in a blanket. As inconceivable the concept, we like the image of the God who made the heavens and earth wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in a manger two thousands years ago because that sounds cool and we have something concrete to share with our teens.
The problem is God isn’t that simple. God is never “just” anything. God isn’t only a new born baby or father or shepherd or burning bush or voice from the heavens. Thomas Aquinas says though God is like any of our imagines of Him, He is actually more unlike any image we can create for Him. God is so mysterious and amazing that no matter how we begin to describe Him, He will always be so much more than our words or images. And so, Ordinary Time is the perfect time to search for the indescribable God and to invite teens into this search. He isn’t any one thing and that is why we must constantly search and continue to invite all of our teens to search. No matter how holy or committed or pious we are, we all must continually search for God.
God is in the Ordinary Moments of Life
The second reason Ordinary Time is a great chance to search for God is that God is in the ordinary. All throughout scripture and the life of the church for the last 2000 years, God has worked through the everyday sort of experiences of his people. In simple meals and wonderful moments, God works in the world. God used ordinary words to create the world.
Thomas Aquinas says that since God created the world, every ordinary thing in the world can tell us something about the Creator. And in His greatest act, the redemption of the world, God acted through a very ordinary means. Our God is the God of the soft wind and small voice. He is a God that rises from the dead and then spends most of his time eating with his friends. Ordinary time is full of all those intimate moments that make the big celebrations so special. Though I loved my wife the day I asked her to marry me, I fell in love with her over coffee, going to movies and late night conversations. Our wedding day was a very powerful and important day for us in our relationship, but I love her more today, an ordinary day, than anytime I can remember.
Most of my teens don’t think they have had many encounters with God. They figure God only shows up in the incensed drenched, darkly lit Saturday nights of retreats. Yet, when they are invited to search for God in everyday moments, they are often overcome with relief and joy. Tell your teens that God is already powerfully present in their lives and one of the joys of Christian discipleship is to recognize those moments. It is one of the most important things we can do for our teens, and there is no better time than now, Ordinary Time.
In these four Sundays between Christmas and the beginning of Lent, I propose that we search and invite our teens to search for God in the ordinary. We all look for God in places we never would have imagined Him. We take these ordinary days and open ourselves to the possibility that our God loves us and desires to be near to us to the point that He, the great Extraordinary, is willing to be ordinary to be so very close to us. Thanks for reading. Keep it real. God Bless.