Christmas @ Disney Springs (With my youth group)

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 7, 2020

Christmas @ Disney Springs with my Youth Group (2011)

Mark 10:23-25

(A portion of this devotion is taken from my book, “Adventures in Youth Ministry.)

During my 25 years in youth ministry, I was always a believer that it was okay to just have fun with my group. It helped build relationships and encouraged a relaxed atmosphere within the group.

Over the last 10 years of my time in full-time youth ministry, I held an annual Christmas Party for the students. I alternated where it was held each year. One year I would have it at my house. In the alternate years, I would take the group to Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida (now Disney Springs), for our annual Christmas party.

A new Characters in Flight balloon is now soaring above Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The tethered helium balloon features a fresh design, including a red, yellow and blue color scheme, adorned with a new set of flying characters: Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Dumbo, Jasmine and Aladdin. From 400 ft. up in the air, guests get a breathtaking 360-degree view of Walt Disney World Resort for approximately 8 – 10 minutes. The daily hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to midnight, weather permitting. (Gene Duncan, photographer)

What occurred during most years, whether we would go away for our Christmas party or celebrate at my house, could only be classified as unforgettable fun. When we would go to Disney Springs for our Christmas party, we would begin with a late lunch (usually on a Sunday after church), followed by photos with Santa. Then, we would generally take a Disney Bus to one of the hotels and check out the decorations, usually at the Contemporary hotel. Next, we’d take two escalator rides upstairs to the game room, where I would give each student 5-10 dollars in-game coins or cards and let them loose for an hour or so. This was always a good time, but the fun stuff was unplanned and mostly spontaneous; the in-between things that happened were what made these events memorable.

It was the second week of December in 2011, and it was time for a Disney Christmas Party. There were about 25 students and 3 adults attending that year. Disney is only an hour’s drive from my old church. The students never really calmed down on the trip, talking, laughing, and singing the theme from “Hannah Montana” (Disney television show) over and over again. They had an appreciative audience because if you know me, I’m a Disney nut. (Kathy and I have visited Disney World over 600 times since we were married in 1974).

The group arrived at Disney Village and went to lunch at Rainforest Café (in recent years, we switched to T-Rex because Dinosaurs growling at you during dinner are much more fun than volcanoes exploding around you!). After lunch, we got in line and had a group picture taken with Santa. We then headed toward the bus depot to travel to The Contemporary Resort hotel.

We hadn’t walked very far from our photoshoot with Santa when one of the young ladies in the group (Angelique) along with several other students approached me. They said, “Joe, can we make a music video? I then asked them what they had in mind. And they said, “We want to have the whole group walk around and sing, “Don’t stop believin'” by Journey.

I told them that it was okay as long as everyone was open to participating. I also volunteered to film the whole process. For the next 15 minutes, Angelique and a couple of other girls got the group together and told everyone where to stand and what they wanted them to do on cue. Somehow, we did this in one take, and unbelievably most of the kids knew the whole song, so that helped. And so, it began, with one student starting and the group slowly forming up until they were a   group of 25 students walking through Disney Village singing, “Don’t stop believin'” in unison.

Now I have to tell you, it was fun, funny, and a moment to remember. Not only did the group sing the entire song while walking, with me back peddling trying to film every moment, but people actually stopped and watched them. At first, I figured people were stopping and thinking, “What a bunch of crazy kids!” Oh no, I was wrong, because when they were done singing, a couple of people actually asked me if they were a Disney act entertaining on the street. Fun for the sake of fun! And to this day, when I occasionally catch up with a few of the students that were there that day, “Don’t stop believin'” always comes up.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think Jesus had fun? Think about it. Jesus was God/Man while on earth. Understanding that helps us to appreciate that He also had human traits.

Let’s take a moment and look at a few verses from Mark’s Gospel, chapter ten. “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now, remember Jesus was a contemporary public speaker in His time. He knew how to get His audience’s attention, using parables, stories, and, yes, humor. So, take a moment and don’t look at it as a Bible story, but rather as someone talking to you 2000 years ago. Jesus says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” If you get that picture of a camel going through the eye of a needle in your mind’s eye, that’s pretty funny. I can almost see the smirk on Jesus’ face when he said it.

It’s okay to have some good old-fashioned fun. Nothing really structured. It can be making angels in the snow (or sand here in Florida), dancing with the one you love no matter where you are when you hear your favorite song or a game of unscheduled tag with your kids. After the year we’ve been through in 2020, we could all use some roll on the ground and laughing enjoyment.

Dear Jesus. Thank you for giving us the outlet of fun and joy in our lives. We know it’s okay to have some fun releasing our emotions with our family and friends. We have joy in our hearts and minds because you saved us from our sins by sacrificing yourself for us. Thanks for that. Amen

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