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God Is Faithful

A Holiday Greeting from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan

December 2017

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:3-5

We set up our Advent wreath in the Hokusei Chapel last week. It has four candles that grace an evergreen in an oval shape so it fits on the small table, though most wreaths are a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God. Our candles are all white, while in other traditions there may be four purple candles, one for each week in Advent. Here at the Hokusei Chapel, we surround our Advent wreath with poinsettias.

The Advent wreath began during the time of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. While the Advent wreath with its four candles did bring much-needed light to churches, its purpose was not to illuminate the interior. Rather, its purpose was — and is — to symbolize the coming of Christ.

Welcome to the Hokusei Univerisity Chapel.

Most Japanese have no idea that Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is a season. It is not a season like climatic seasons; it is part of the church calendar. Advent means “to come,” and it specifically references the coming of Jesus Christ into the world for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of God’s human creation.

During each week of the Advent season, we focus on one of the four virtues Jesus brings us: Peace, Joy, Love and Hope. I would like to share a snapshot from a young family at church whose story encapsulates joy. The following is a representation of what the father recently shared when delivering the Sunday children’s message:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.

When we give thanks, we are happy. Have you ever seen a young child open a present? When my son was three years old, he loved Anpanman. One day, I visited a towel store and saw an Anpanman towel set, but that was not all I saw. I saw a wonderful Anpanman blanket. When I got home, I told my wife, and she was so happy. Then, we played a short game with him. It was the “open the door — SURPRISE!” game.

Anpanman is a popular cartoon character in Japan

The first time he opened the door, he saw the smaller Anpanman towel. And, he said: “Anpanman!” Then he closed the door.

The second time, he opened the door and saw the full towel! And he laughed and smiled and cheered, “Anpanman!” Then we asked him to shut the door.

Oh, his eyes were already full of excitement and anticipation. Then, we said, “Open the Door!” What did he see but a full blanket for his bed! He had never ever seen such a large Anpanman ever! And he laughed and screamed, “ANPANMAN!!!” Then he ran to us as we wrapped him and ourselves in the three gifts.

That night, he had a bath and was scrubbed clean with the smaller towel, dried himself with the larger one, and went to sleep under his Anpanman blanket. Happiness. Joy.

Paul would agree, but we need to know that the grace of God’s love in Christ is much more than a cute towel and blanket set. It is something much more and everlasting. It is something that leads us to heaven.

What is the takeaway from this Advent message given to children here in Japan? As for me, it is that God is faithful. Christmas in Japan is popular more as a commercial holiday. For many is a time for parties, fun, and dating. Yet, among our fellow churchgoers, Christmas is focused on sharing, on giving, to make lives better for the people around us. It is a time for sharing the joy that faith in Christ brings.

Thank you, everyone, for your support of our Presbyterian (USA) mission co-workers and long-term international volunteers. It is your generosity that enables us to extend our reach as a denomination and its message of God’s love in Christ Jesus.

Once again, thank you very much.

Thomas

Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is caring and love, God is always there.


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