December 12, 2017 Robert Houlihan

Christmas in Nihon

To a person living in one of the megapolis of Asia, the Christmas season comes none too early. The year is ending with all the pressures of financial reports and inventories.  The ebb of life is starting to slow down and everyone is getting ready for the holidays. Christmas in Japan is celebrated with “kurisumasu kaiki” (Christmas cake), office and school parties, and Christmas carols sung by Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole in the department stores.

A few years ago, I was in the Ikebukuro area of Tokyo with some Bible college students inviting people to come to a Christmas service in our church.  As I began to invite a young lady to the service, she stopped, became very indignant, and said in Japanese: “You Christians are trying to take over our Christmas time.” I was shocked by her words. To think that in modern Japan with all the communication systems of the 21 century, a modern young person thinks that “kurisumasu” (Christmas) is not Christian. How is this possible?

One possible answer is that businesses and commercial companies have done a more successful job of spreading their “gospel” than the church has in sharing ours.  In some sense, global companies have convinced the world that no matter what religious system a person may follow, you can still celebrate Christmas.  

It is selling a “good time” rather than giving the “good news”.

Even in America, consumerism has taken over the last six weeks of the year. “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving, has become the biggest sales day of the calendar. This is the time when companies go from “red ink” to “black ink”. We have gone from the twelve days of Christmas to the seven days of Black Friday. The almighty dollar has become the ticket to all the bread and games societies can offer.

Harvey Cox in his latest book, The Market as God, traces how the market has reached “divine” status.  According to people of the financial world, the market is almost omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. “It knows the value of everything and determines the outcome of every transaction. The Market comes complete with its own doctrine, prophets and evangelistic zeal to convert the world to its own way of life.”1)http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=978067 4659681. acc. 11/20/17 In this view, the market bears all resemblance to Christianity except that it comes from man and not from above. To the masses of Asia, the market has captured their hearts and minds, convincing them to buy more, use more, and store more.

Even though the market has tainted the real meaning of Christmas, strange as this may seem, this season is still the best time to share the Christmas story. The REAL message can drown out the sound of commerce…

  • The couple who traveled far
  • The wonder of the Star
  • The announcement to the shepherds
  • The singing of the heavenly hosts
  • The Child born in an animal shelter

This is the greatest story ever told…Emmanuel, God with us. This is the announcement that divided human history. It changed everything, ushering in discontinuous change. Time could never go back to the way it was before. Now, man has the opportunity to be future-oriented rather than fixed to the failures of the past.

God in the midst; there is hope in the world.

In the church my wife and I pioneered in Tokyo, people, despite the market-driven society, found hope at Christmas.  A young embassy worker was diagnosed with leukemia. With his young wife and child, this 26 year old was given no hope to survive by Japanese doctors.  But the Christ of Christmas breathed new life into the man through a dream about Psalm 30. He was healed and now pastors a church.

A successful Japanese businessman, Takahi san, was failing in his personal life. Hundreds of employees were at his command, but position, wealth, and prestige were no help for his despondency. However, the Christ of Christmas lifted him out of the “pond of despair” and gave him a reason to live.

We had many mainland Chinese students in our congregation. One evening, we were sharing faith in Christ to 30 Chinese students who came from wealthy families in China. We had a personal conversation with a Dr. Wong, who was in Japan doing post-graduate studies. The doctor had never heard the story of Christ so we invited her to attend our worship services the next day.  She came with others and sat next to me while Carolyn was leading the worship service. As the congregation was singing, the presence of the Lord filled the church. Followers of Christ were praising God in spirit and truth. Next to me, Dr. Wong began to sob. As we continued praising God, she began to cry out loud. I asked her if she was alright and needed help. Dr. Wong looked at me and said: “What is it in this place? I have never felt this presence before.” I smiled and said, “Dr. Wong, this is the presence of Christ. God is with us.”

The Apostle said with great conviction: “Thank God for His unspeakable gift.”  

On this first Christmas, it was the Father who gave the Gift. Today, we are ones who get to share the Gift.

Let us go tell the story on the mountain tops, in the valleys, in the market places, and in the halls of learning until all have had an opportunity to hear the real Christmas story. God is here.

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=978067 4659681. acc. 11/20/17
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About the Author

Robert Houlihan Dr. Bob Houlihan is a long time missionary and director who has served as chairman of Crossroads Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to responding to victims of disastrous and chaotic conditions around the world. He also served as Asia Pacific director of the Assemblies of God World Missions for 11 years, providing leadership and mentoring to more than 300 missionaries in 35 countries. Currently, Dr. Houlihan is Professor of World Missions and Leadership at Southeastern University.