A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love
Christmas in Taiwan is a refraction of several traditions. It’s not uncommon to hear Christmas music in a store in, say, July, but decorations come out intentionally only in December. Shopping districts are more likely to have lights and tinsel now, but it’s still far less commercialized than in the US. If Santa appears, he’s usually much slimmer and speaks Mandarin. Where my nieces in the States learned a lot about Santa from friends (and had pretty high expectations), here he primarily visits malls and isn’t guaranteed to bring you anything on Christmas day. It’s never a white Christmas, and things are usually cool and wet in December.
In churches, meanwhile, Christmas is a major time for outreach and evangelism. Banquets, special worship services, concerts, and mission characterize the Christmas season. Christmas is one of several times when churches hold baptisms—Eva and Eli were baptized on Christmas Day two years ago with about twenty other people from our church. Our family now attends a multicultural worship service. It has been doing a banquet outreach event on Christmas, and the numbers have grown each year for the last three years—it has even outgrown most of the possible church spaces and so is held at an alternate location.
Right now I am helping organize preaching during a short interim when a pastor friend is on sabbatical. The church we go to will use the themes of Advent for the first four weeks of December: “the hope of Christ,” “the peace of Christ,” “the joy of Christ,” and the “love of Christ.” These themes are meaningful because they offer us things we are often lacking—hope, peace, joy, love—but which Christ can provide. It is striking how stressful, combative, depressing, and unloving the Christmas season can be, so I am especially glad that during advent we can meditate on these four themes. Set against the violence of Roman occupied Israel, the birth of Christ seemed like an unlikely place to offer such faith, hope, peace, and love.
Another tradition I love in the Taiwanese church is the use of end-of-year vigils. Often on December 31st, congregations will host a time of prayer and singing to prepare for the new year. For us also, it’s a good time to take stock of our work during the year. In the last year, I’ve taught more than two hundred class sessions, preached a couple of dozen times, and officiated at two weddings. I’ve gone to many committee meetings. Our kids have seen fifth (Sam) and third (Eva and Eli) birthdays and have gained, or regained, some fluency in Mandarin (Sam: pretty good; the twins: still working on it). Emily was able to read Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to Sam’s class in Mandarin and English, and attempted an on-the-fly translation of The Gruffalo (by Julia Donaldson).
During this year, I’ve been really moved by students who pour out their lives for ministry in the churches, and it’s been fun to see their visible progress: graduation sermons, end-of-term papers, ministry reflections, and Bible studies. On Christmas, we always miss our family in the US but are glad for the family here. How was 2013 for you? What were the milestones, the changes? Who were the people you met, the people you lost? My prayer for you is that 2014 will bring you all the hope, peace, joy and love that God can offer. Whether Christmas finds you close to or far from loved ones, know that God is with you.
We thank you for your support during 2013 and invite you to continue on this journey with us through your prayers, correspondence and financial gifts for this ministry. We hope to see you soon, and plan to be back for interpretation this summer. Pray for us as we pray for you.
Holy God, we thank you for the hope, peace, joy, and love that you promise. In the season of Advent, we wait in hope. In your incarnation, we find peace. In your life and in your life in us, we find great joy. Because you love us, we may love others. God of Bethlehem and God of all the world, we praise and thank you for the work you have done this last year and ask you to guide us on your way in the days ahead. Amen.
Jonathan, Emily, Sam, Eva, and Eli
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