So, before we start these blogging proceedings, I need to tell you that the reason I can at this moment take some beautiful time to sit in Starbucks, with a caramel steamer happily-steaming-away in front of me, wrapped in thick-wintery-knit-wear-of-rather epic-proportions (we’ve got a bit of a snow storm going on right now in Sapporo so I am wearing four layers, plus leg warmers and arm cuffs) is that I have FINISHED the first complete draft of my dissertation.
It now gets sent to my tutor for comments and further criticism and all that jazz, and so there will undoubtably be another couple of days work ahead of me before I submit it in January, but for now, for this upcoming Christmas holiday, the deadline is met, and I can finally catch up on some much-much-MUCH needed sleep and finally properly-and-really-relax. And then fly to the UK in 4 days times and spend 10 days touring around the geographical area of pretty much the whole country (yes, I am covering London, Exeter, Sheffield, Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, Weston and even the lofty highland heights of Inverness). I am so FLIPPING excited! About coming back to visit. About catching up with people that I love. About returning to this city that I love in January. About next year. About life. Generally.
Now before you think I entitled this blog post in a bit of post-dissertation-too-many-3am-writing-finishes madness. I haven’t. I’m actually going to tell you a story that I’ve been keeping inside for the past few weeks because I wanted to have the head space to blog about it in a way that did the tale justice.
Because I think you’ll like it.
And if I can get a Christmas-type-Jesus-point out of it, then I deserve a Masters for that alone… 😉
You might remember, if you regularly read this blog, that last month the big gospel choir that I sing in had a huge concert. Remember that far back? It was awesome. And lots of my friends came to listen and watch and hear what was going on.
And this story involves two of those friends.
My beautiful Japanese friend Ayumi.
And my hilariously-brilliant American friend Ray.
So this is what happened from Ayumi’s perspective.
She was meeting Ray and another friend before the concert and they had about 10 minutes before the doors opened for people to go in. She’d actually only just managed to get a ticket the night before, as the event was a sell out and she was a little last minute.
But she arrived, met the others and was waiting in the queue, when she realised she’d lost her newly-purchased ticket to get in and it wasn’t in her pocket.
So, she exclaimed, in English (as the friends she was with were American) something like, ‘Oh no, I’ve lost my ticket! I only managed to get a ticket last night and now I can’t find it!’
She then began to empty her bag, earnestly searching for her ticket, exclaiming, ‘Ray, I need my ticket. I need my ticket. Can you help me find it?’
Ray was really helpful. He offered to go and look in a few different places, including the corner shop and a local supermarket. He ran across the road to check a convenience store.
He began listing off other places they could search.
He was really, really, really concerned about helping Ayumi find what she was looking for.
And this type of conversation went on for about 5 minutes as they checked, and double-checked and searched for this ticket.
Eventually, in desperation and exasperation he exclaimed, ‘Ayumi, there’s a KFC near my house and we can go there… But I’m not sure we have time when the concert starts in 10 minutes. Can you wait until afterwards for your chicken or do you really, really need to eat some now?!?’
Yep. You just read that right. For a whole 5 or 6 minutes Ray thought Ayumi was searching for chicken. (And seemingly thought that was a completely natural thing to be happening… Crazy American… ;))
You see, in Japanese, there are what we call loan-words. More recently created words that kind of sound like English as they are taken directly from the English, but then given a Japanese slant.
Ticket is one of those words. Even really good English speakers, like Ayumi, sometimes pronounce the English with the Japanese pronunciation.
In Japanese it’s pronounced something like ‘chiketto’.
Which… You know… Can be mistaken for chicken. Sometimes. Kinda. Maybe.
Ticket. Chiketto. Chicken.
So whilst Ayumi had been searching for something that she desperately needed in order to get into the concert, Ray was trying to help her find something totally different… That she really didn’t need and didn’t even want. As Ayumi says, she doesn’t even really like KFC.
He actually thought she was clearly saying ‘Oh, I’ve lost my chicken! I only managed to get a chicken last night and now I can’t find it!. Ray, I need my chicken. I need my chicken. Can you help me find it?’
I’m not kidding when I say that I laughed for at least 25 minutes when they told me this story.
I totally and completely have the greatest and most hilarious friends.
But actually, I kind of think Christians do this all the time.
Especially at Christmas.
We almost-accidentally miss the whole entire point of what the whole entire world is crying out for.
Instead of listening to the cries of those who don’t know God, but are yet desperate to enter into the deep places of God, we dance around waving KFC at them and pretending that it’s what they really, really need (in Japan, people literally dance around waving KFC at Christmas, as it passes for ‘traditional food’ here… but that’s another distressing point).
We want to shove a little bit of bitesize-Jesus down people’s throats. Just enough Jesus for what ails them. Just enough Jesus to fit on a Christmas card and get wrapped up beautifully under the tree. Just enough Jesus to mention when we sing some nice carols with some nostalgic words.
We think we’re hearing. We think we’re listening. We think we’re helping. We think that’s what people want at Christmas.
But I don’t think we’re listening hard enough. I don’t think I’m listening hard enough.
Because I read this quote as I was writing the conclusion for my dissertation that stopped me dead in my tracks this Christmas time.
‘For the helpless and humiliated victims of injustice, the cry for justice is the cry for God’ (Moltmann).
Honestly, that stopped me dead what-presents-do-I-want-this-year-tracks.
Christmas actually isn’t about… Me? Or making Jesus small? Or feeling festive?
We have a God who didn’t hear the cries of the world and misunderstand them from a distance. We have a God who heard every-single-tiny-cry and saw every single hurt and mistake, and every injustice, and every situation, and who saw fully. He understood completely.
And He was moved.
He didn’t just sympathise with us in our pain and our weakness. He stepped down from His throne, and clothed Himself in flesh forever. He entered into our humanity in the most sacrificial way He possibly could. He lived a radical life of compassion. He loved deeply. He loved us to the end. He loved this world in every breath he breathed. He bore this cross to bring about a grace so costly that it cost Him everything. And He rose, defeating death, rising triumphantly and eternally, and pouring His Holy Spirit into our hearts as a seal of this great promise.
He calls us to live lives transformed by this truth until He returns and makes all of the wrong things right forever and ever and ever.
Christmas isn’t about this small, individual salvation with this small, baby Jesus. Just enough Jesus to feed us KFC and make us feel good, but not bring us into the depths of God.
Christmas is about this world-changing-cosmos-shaking salvation, in which God stepped into our sinful, dark, messed up world in order to redeem it completely to Himself. He came to give us entrance into His Presence, not only as a future distant hope, but for every single day that we walk on this earth.
He came to stand with His bride, and stand with His people, and call us to LIVE out this salvation story.
Living out this salvation story so that we hear the cries of the world.
The real ones.
The ones from the people who are desperate.
The ones who are lonely, and destitute, and bankrupt, and abused, and abandoned, and rich-but-oh-so-poor-inside, and seeking for fulfilment in all the wrong things and all the wrong choices.
And we realise that in their cries, contained in them at their core, is the cry for God.
Cries for this God who loved us out of our mess and into His wholeness. And cries for He who calls us to do the same.
So this Christmas, I am challenged.
To keep Christmas as big as it really is. To truly listen. To truly love. To truly be moved. To truly act.
For a child has been born for us! The gift of a son for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counsellor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness He brings. (Isaiah 9)
And here’s a picture of me wearing my latest monthly necklace delivery from Miriam Designs. If you want to support his awesome project in their great work then check them out.