I arrived at the church amidst the buzz and chatter of children scrambling into haloes and adjusting wings. Bathrobes were hastily tied shut as they assumbled to make their Christmas presentation. The kerosene heater had been lit, and the warmth of the fire slowly made its way into every corner of the small church building. Those who had gathered around the heater warmed their hands one final time and sat down to listen to the children. Shepherds cowered in the church's center aisle as dark-haired, brown eyed angels sang "Glory to God." Mary held a baby Jesus graced with a mop of fine dark hair. Everyone sang "Away in a manger."
After the program, we ate supper together and exchanged small gifts. Then we walked through the neighborhood visiting shut-ins and singing carols. One father carried his little girl high on his shoulders as they sang. A few high school students in their black uniforms joined us as we walked through the winding back streets. I walked with a tall high school senior boy who had never been to church before.
When we returned to church, cold and hungry and tired, instead of cookies and hot chocolate, there were varieties of noodles, sweet beans and steaming soups. We wrapped our chapped hands around cups of green tea, and warmed ourselves around the church heater. Then more visitors arrived, packing the church for the first time, for the only time all year. Visitors arrived with stars in their eyes, visitors who wanted to hear the story, the story I knew by heart, the story they thought strange and exotic. Then visitors came for that late service, and we each received a candle. We sat closed together in the pews, feeling the warmth of candlelight on our faces as we sang "Silent Night" in Japanese.
Kiyoshi kono yoru
Hoshi wa hikari
Sukui no miko wa
Mabune no naka ni
Nemuritamo -- ito-ya-suku.
It was late when everyone left the church, walking through the narrow winding streets, waiting for trains and subways, riding for sometimes an hour to get home from church. Waiting for me were presents from mom and dad, missionary friends who would have a "family" Christmas together. But for my Japanese friends, this was Christmas, this one evening whe nthe church was full, when the candles were lit, when people came to hear the story of Emmanuel, and to experience the worship of those exotic Christians and their strange Bible. There we no large family gatherings with presents piled under a tree, and no surprise deliveries from Santa either. There was no traditional Christmas dinner to be cooked, and there were no Christmas cards lined up on the walls and ledges. There was just thier one evening, with brothers and sisters in Christ worshiping and feasting together as a family, and sharing the light with their friends and neighbors who had never heard the story. There was just this one evening. When Christmas Day dawned, alarm clocks rang and people got up early and went to work. Christmas Day is not a holiday in Japan. The trains were full of commuters, living and working another ordinary day, just like every other ordinary day.
... to be continued (the "preaching" part)