What Young Adults Can Teach Us about Celebrating Christmas
By Greg Koenig, Lutheran Student Fellowship Co-facilitator
I was concerned about my son Adam. His Christmas break had begun and he was home, but we had not seen much more of him than we had all those weeks he was away at college. The light beneath the door to his room in our basement told us he was staying up into the wee hours of the night. From time to time he would emerge to eat with us, but he didn’t say much before retreating again to his sanctum.
Then he invited me to accompany him to … a craft store.
When he purchased canvas, paint, and skeins of colorful yarn, his secret was out. He was spending hours and hours making Christmas gifts for us and for his friends. Paintings. Knitted scarves. Hand-stitched and decorated journals. Unique gifts; sacrificial gifts; gifts with tremendous personal meaning.
Not only that, but he had estimated what he would save by not buying gifts and had determined to give it to an organization that provides clean water to developing-world communities.
Now, Jesus has always been the reason for the season in my mind and heart, but since I had done my part over the years to feed into the $450 billion dollar commercial Christmas industry in this country, this gave me pause. I had to admit—sadly, humbly—this was not the Christmas gift-giving ritual I knew best.
But it was better—it was itself a gift, which reminded me to step away from the lights and tinsel and the wrapping paper and focus on a gift of infinitely greater value—yet far more personal. An ancient promise. A child in Bethlehem. God, delivering all of humanity and restoring the relationship between Himself and us.
Recent studies tell us that only about 20 percent of U.S. college students participate in weekly Christian worship. We have no data that indicate the proportion is higher or lower among the estimated 100,000 or so Missouri-Synod Lutherans on campus; we are aware of about 10,000 to 12,000 (i.e., 10-12 percent) who are involved in LCMS-sponsored campus ministries.
Many among that estimated 20 percent who are involved in church are young adults who crave to learn how to live a dynamic faith that expresses itself in honest witness and in service to others.
For both the involved and the uninvolved students, Christmas is a crossroads. For the uninvolved, Christmas holds less and less significance beyond its outward trappings. For the involved, the outward trappings can become superfluous, and these young adults often resonate to new, countercultural messages that return to the roots of Christmas and lift up the story of the Son of God come to earth—and then reach out with it in personalized expressions of love and in compassionate action. What messages? One Christian organization expresses this spirit simply: “Spend less; give more; worship fully; love all.”
What could we learn from college students whom the Spirit leads to invest themselves energetically, deeply in a celebration of Christmas that even reaches out in sacrificial service to others? Something important, perhaps—something that opens our eyes to the fullest measure of God’s love and opens our ears to the call of His Spirit to respond. Could I step away from Big Store Christmas long enough to sing “Christ the Savior is born!” with all I’ve got, and then to do my very best to imitate the love and care of the God Who loved me enough to send His Son to save me? I think I want to try.
How about you? Shall we start our celebration now?