Room in the heart better than room at the inn




Editor’s note: Florida Conference Connection invited Russ Graves, Florida UMC lay leader, and Derrick Scott III, associate lay leader and Campus to City Wesley director working with college students in Jacksonville, to share their thoughts about the Advent season. The result? Perhaps the generations are not so far apart, after all.


Derrick Scott III
 

When I was growing up, my Christmas focus was the space under the tree and things wrapped and tied with bows. 

When I was older, I heard about the celebration of Advent from J.D. Walt at a presentation on the Christian calendar. He told us that the liturgical seasons were part of a rhythm that began at the end of November with deep expectation and longing. As I listened, the idea of Christmas being an entire month-long celebration seemed a bit off. I saw a need to make time for deeper reflections on the story of Israel and their long history of waiting. Simeon and Anna greeting the Messiah at the temple became more than supporting roles in the Christmas story for me. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” quickly became my favorite holiday hymn. I wanted to prepare myself for the coming of the Messiah, not just run into Him on December 24.

Derrick Scott III
Derrick Scott III
Pretty soon, justice and social action became deeply connected to my observance of Advent. I heard about initiatives like Advent Conspiracy and the Angel Tree project my church's young adult ministry had organized for a local neighborhood. By my late twenties, the Advent Season became a significant part of my Christmas season -- and busier with each passing year.

Last year, I attended the midnight Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Jacksonville. It had become a tradition for me as my celebration of Advent developed. I loved going to midnight Mass because I always felt lost. For someone who grew up organizing worship services since the age of 12, not knowing what was going on was a bit refreshing. In my opinion, the Catholic Church continues to maintain the sense of mystery and awe, particularly when it comes to this special season. On this particular night, however, I was exhausted and it bothered me.

As I knelt during the Eucharist and the choir sang “O Holy Night," I felt the Spirit tell me to make more room. My first gut reaction was a reflection of my journey from Christmas being about gifts to having my eyes opened to the expectation, longing and justice related to Advent.  Then I heard the whisper again, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Had I not always made room for Jesus? Wasn't all of this effort around the season about Jesus? Then a phrase in Philippians 2 rang in my head: “He emptied himself.” The Incarnation was the beginning of God emptying Himself for my sake and the sake of the world.

We are so full of good acts, good intentions, good words, good gifts, good churches, good parties, good Christmas activities and good food. But I can speak only for myself, and the more good stuff there is in my life, the more likely the cries of the baby Jesus get drowned out of my heart. I am so full of knowledge about the season, the pains of the world, the many angles and interpretations of the story of Jesus that the manger is very crowded.

To be sure, the key players of the Christmas story had very little. They were short on knowledge, resources were few, and they could not even find a room in the inn! And yet, they beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. For them, that night was not about gifts to each other or even helping others in need. They were the needy ones, and the baby was all they needed to see.

This Advent and Christmas season, I am endeavoring to empty myself. I have no idea what that means. It is a prayer, a meditation, a desire of the heart. I have a packed schedule as always. There are gifts to buy, goodwill to give and parties to attend. But in the secret place of my soul, I want to see Him this year. I want to see His glory like Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men saw Him. I want to grasp deeply in my heart the truth that in the manger was everything I ever wanted and needed. I wonder what might happen to my devotional life, if I could see Him. I wonder if my schedule would change if I cleared the room in my heart so that it is He and only He there. I wonder if my approach to justice and mercy would change as a result of seeing Him. This year, I am endeavoring to empty myself of all that is unnecessary so that my eyes can see Jesus as the source of my salvation.

 

Russ Graves

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by spending time in spiritual preparation, an important theme for me is family.

At this stage of my life, the very notion of family is different from what I knew as a boy. Then it was my parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. I remember the anticipation and the excitement, the thrill of Christmas presents, wonderful food from my grandmother’s table, (candy, cakes, pies, turkey and dressing) and the expression of love that flowed throughout the year but somehow seemed stronger, deeper and more special at Christmas. I remember hearing, even then, “how wonderful it would be if that love and goodwill could last all year.”  

Russ Graves
Russ Graves

Now as a husband, father, grandparent and great-grandparent, I wonder if my family members, who live in a very different time, one that makes my experience look like a time of innocence, will think I’m even in touch with today’s world and receive my influence. When I am able to slow them down, have a discussion, listen to their heart, learn of their dreams and find out what gives them joy, I discover that their dreams are not so different from those I had so many years ago.

My family is larger and very different today than it was then because I accepted a challenge from Derrick Scott to make a friend with a young adult. God has sent me young men and women who have won my heart and are teaching me.
 
As you can see from Derrick’s accompanying perspective, young people want to be part of what matters, want to make a difference, want to help the poor and save children.

Some are Christ followers and some are not. Their motivation and commitment are second to none. Some are finding Christ through the very service to which He calls us. In this time of Advent, we celebrate the birth of a child, the coming of a Savior and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. It is good to be alive and serving our risen Savior.
 
Let us join in prayer, fasting and praise in this holy season and allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through us to make a difference, the way my young friends and family are doing.
 




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