Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas in Japan, part II

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)

17 comments:

mompriest said...

lovely reflection diane...

I continue to struggle with my sermon for Christmas Eve. I think I am going to tell the story of the birth I just attended and weave that into the birth we celebrate and connect it to giving and receiving gifts, especially the gift of love...

A friend of mine is going to read a children's book written by Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes), "Angela and the Baby Jesus." It's the story of his mother at the age of six who sees the baby Jesus in the creche at church and decides he looks cold so she takes him home to warm him...cute story...

I tend to preach short sermons on these holy days, most of the story is already told in scripture and in hymn and worship and eucharist...

I hope you are inspired!

LawAndGospel said...

As I read this wonderful story I pondered whether sometimes we, with all of traditions and stuff get sidetracked from the simple completeness of the story that puts stars in our eyes, and the intensity of "just this one night" - may we never tire of marveling. Blessings to you and yours for a joyous celebration of the Nativity of our Lord.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

Hearing the very familar Silent Night sung in Japanese reminds me of how "set" we get in our celebration of Christmas etc. What a wonderful experience. Just experiencing God in another culture and another worldview...wow!

Rowan The Dog said...

I am enjoying the story Diane.

Diane said...

I've seen the Angela story, Mompriest..

I also try to keep it a little "shorter" than usual, but not too short.

Grendel said...

Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now! Scout Blog Now!


Please? Thank you.

Diane said...

I guess someone wants Scout to have her own blog now...

we are working on it here.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

beautiful account...
(and WOW scout's popular!)

seems that we are all somehow in pieces of the same struggle in regards to christmas eve... how do help inject freshness into a story we know so well?

FranIAm said...

I am so enjoying reading all of this Diane... so lovely.

Barbara B. said...

I, too, am really enjoying this...
And, wow, Scout IS popular!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, lovely story of Christmas in Japan.

Rowan The Dog said...

I've got to get going but before I rush out I just came back over to see the picture of Scout.
Lindy

Rowan The Dog said...

Someone give Grendel some gravy... She's right, though. We all want Scout to have a blog.

Diane said...

I DO want Scout to have a blog, and even tried to start one, but I'm having trouble because the profile still comes up me. Not computer literate enough to know how to change that.

Rowan The Dog said...

I don't know how to do it either. That's why I only have one profile... Rowan's. If you figure it out,let me know.
Lindy

gartenfische said...

Thank you so much for sharing your stories of Christmas in Japan.

How odd it would be to be somewhere on Christmas where people go to work and it's just an ordinary day.

One way you could have another blog without blogger identifying you, is to use wordpress! Of course, you'd have to learn new software, but it's pretty simple (you could always ask me if you run into questions). You could always try it by signing up and just see.

Diane said...

gartenfische-- that is just what I am trying to do. I have some really rudimentary stuff up. don't have any idea what I am doing.