4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:4-7
Keychain leadership is easy to recognize and has unexpected benefits. When I was a teenager, I was blessed with the opportunity to share my musical gifts in worship. Our youth leader handed over the worship time to the youth group. We built each other up, we learned new songs, we gained new volunteers, and we formed a strong worship team with a bunch of high schoolers. Over time as I transitioned from high school to college, I took a more significant leadership role in the youth group. Our youth leader began to give us more and more responsibility, to the point of giving me keys to the fellowship hall. Handing over the keys to the building led me to ministry that I could have never imagined.
I saw this gracious act as affirmation from our God that I had a place in the church. I had something to offer, and his people trusted in me. I was convinced that God gave me the gift of music to be an agent of change and a servant to the Kingdom through music. Worship was vital; it was the path, it was where I could shine my light and add value to the church alongside with my brothers and sisters doing God’s work. Life in the church was good.
One evening my buddy, Robert, and I were rehearsing in the fellowship hall. We loved playing music so much we would often play until late at night only to return to lead worship the next day and then stay afterward to play more. We were alive when we worshiped and played music. On this particular night, we had stayed past the time that all the other meetings were over. The main sanctuary was dark, but the light
from the fellowship hall attracted unexpected guests.
As we played music, we heard knocking. My first reaction was, “Uh Oh, we are too loud, and it’s late.” On more than one occasion
the cops were notified. The common complaint was that there was “rock music” coming from the church. The cops were always gracious and supportive of us. “Keep up the good work, it sounds great, but try to keep it down if you can,” was a typical response. So when we heard knocking we, quickly stopped to see who it was.
To my surprise, it was not the cops. It was someone entirely different. Within the doorway stood a couple crowded together in the dark in a
state of despondency. We asked how we could help with questions like, “Are you lost? Are you looking for someone? Is there a meeting
tonight?” A bit reluctant they asked if this was the church that housed the food bank. I was quick to answer, “no, this was the church
that housed the clothing bank.”
Although I don’t completely remember our conversation with the young couple, I do remember their disappointment. It wasn’t anger; it wasn’t frustration…it was something different. I believe once they realized we could not help, their overwhelming hopelessness began to pour out. The woman started to fumble through their story of how they had gone from one church or organization to another trying to find the food bank. But they were turned away repeatedly in search of a promised phantom food bank. They were running out of gas and needed to conserve enough to get home.
I grew up in the inner city around poverty and people suffering from homelessness and mental illness. My time in the city has afforded me rubbing elbows with all sorts of characters, drunks, tweakers, thieves, gangbangers, and charlatans. I have seen my fair share of those who are looking for a handout and those who truly have no hope. What struck me about this couple, was that the gentlemen, in his desperation
began, to softly cry as I was explaining how we were no help to them. He tried not to draw attention to himself, as he was not the one doing most of the talking. That’s when it hit me. We were not there late that night to worship through music, but we were there to worship through service. Here I was suggesting all the places that I could think of that could help them, completely missing the fact that their wild goose chase organization looking for help and continually rejected had led them to us.
It wasn’t much, but hope only needs a little to do a lot.
Once I came to my senses, I quickly took a count in my head of how much money I had on me. I was a freshman in college and did not have much. I remember it was around $30. I quickly glanced over to my buddy Robert and then proceeded to ask the couple. “If it’s Ok with you, I have a little money on me, why don’t we drive over to the grocery store at the end of the block and get you some food for your family to hold
you over until you can get to a real foodbank?” They graciously accepted, and Robert and I took them down the aisles picking out food within our budget for the weekend. It wasn’t much, but hope only needs a little to do a lot.
When I think of the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, it reminds me of the night we heard a knock on our door while rehearsing. Like the owner of the inn, an unexpected knock from a young couple looking for a place to stay was heard at his door. The major difference between his story and ours is that he didn’t know he was helping fulfill prophecy by offering his stable for the Messiah to be born.
Handing me keys to the fellowship hall was a gift I will never forget. My youth leader wasn’t merely handing me keys; she handed me my future. Since then I have: prayed with the broken, fed the homeless, ministered to youth, played in public venues where we couldn’t even mention God’s name but could sing about Him, played a benefit concert to help stop sex trafficking, preached, and have done my best to be a leader in my local church. I hope that one day I too can hand over my “keys” to another young person with the passion and gift of grace to do
God’s work. This Advent season keep your ears and hearts open for the knock on the door. It may be that you unexpectedly become part of a larger story that God has already written.