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 PAST ISSUES
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
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541: Developmentally challenged

By Bruce Sloan

The Spirit of Things

The true message of Christmas is alive in the heart of Tokyo

Bruce Sloan is the pastor of the Tokyo Union Church

The glowing blue illuminations of Roppongi, the department store display windows of Ginza, and the smartly dressed ladies of Omotesando have wooed me to reflect about this Christmas season. Ordering a meal in Japanese from a kanji menu as Elvis Presley's "Silent Night" plays over the sound system makes me realize, again, that Christmas in Japan is another unique foreign experience.

I welcome the enthusiasm of the Japanese who make me aware of this season. The Christmas trees are precisely and innovatively decorated, local communities have creatively placed the holidays into their street-lamp banners-and there goes a little Boston terrier dressed like Santa Claus.

Christmas in the Western tradition was shaped by the small villages of Europe. Townspeople living in tiny and cold homes during the short winter days would look forward to the warmth, bright lights and celebrative music of the church. Christmas was a community event. Carols were sung, scriptures read, and the great Christ Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve. Children would act out the nativity scene as parents gave gifts of fruit and coins to the poor.

Today, Christmas has become more private. Even with massive shopping centers filled with people, the day is normally shared with family or close friends. This change makes it difficult for those who are away from family, or have no family, or have experienced the death of a loved one. The day whose purpose was to bring inclusion for all people can become a period of exclusion. Some may feel at a loss and wonder, Where is the joy?

Tokyo reintroduces us to shared celebrations. The religious aspect of Christmas is left to the individual, but there is the opportunity to make this season a joyful community event. The holiday here can be more meaningful than ever if we can return to the story of Christmas and its proclamation of love, joy and peace.

Walking down a small street in Harajuku, I see a lighted plastic Holy Family set around a baby in a manger. It is a peaceful scene with joyful expressions on the figures-the birth of a child always brings hope. This year, the city has also provided us with The Nutcracker, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and The Messiah. These performances give their distinctive interpretation of the season. The child's world of a mysterious nutcracker, the miserly businessman who finds the joy of giving, and the heart-moving words of the Messiah provide stories that help us find hope in the day that we live.

Christmas itself is a collection of tales about the miraculous birth in Bethlehem: the child born in a stable, shepherds separated from society by their occupation, and wise people who continually seek insight into the future. These stories connect to our own life stories and give us time to imagine a world where we do not fear and where we are accepted for who we are. We are invited during Christmas to share in the story of God's love. A love that is unconditional.

Christmas Eve in Tokyo is a time to reflect on our life and our opportunity to bring peace to our world. It could be a smile to a stranger, a word of encouragement to an office worker, or an email to a friend. It could be a visit to a local church, a quiet time of reading the scriptures, or a prayer that peace will prevail on earth.

Then Christmas shortly gives way to New Year festivals. As quickly as the decorations have gone up, they are swiftly replaced. The New Year will be here and we are off again into a new celebration. However, the story that began in a peaceful manger continues with the hope that someday the wolf will lie down with the sheep and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. This is a season that should raise our awareness of the wonder of our life… a life created for a divine purpose.

Recently, my three-year-old granddaughter called from the US and wanted us to whistle together. During our whistling contest, which brought laughter to both of us, I was carried far away from adult worries to a life of complete joy. I thought of something she said about gifts. A few days before Christmas last year, she looked into her overflowing toy chest and said, "Too much." Can a child lead us back to the meaning of Christmas?

Maybe we see our life as being filled with too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right stuff. Maybe we need a friend with whom to whistle.

Christmas is about a life that changed the lives of others. Perhaps this Christmas we can see the joy of our life bringing joy and peace to others. That could be the best gift we can give.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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