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Toshiki Toma

Love and pain story – Christmas

Flutt 27. desember 2015 · í enskri messu í Hallgrímskirkju

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

1.
Merry Christmas! I am an immigrant from Japan, and one of the things that I am fond of being here in Iceland is that Christmas is a feast that lasts for about two weeks, until January 6th, the Epiphany. In Japan Christmas is only Christmas Eve and Christmas day, literally one night and one day.

Being positive, it might be considered amazing that Christmas even exists in Japan, where only 1% of the population belongs to Christianity. Most Japanese, who are not Christians, celebrate Christmas as a cultural event. Everybody says “Merry Christmas!” but the main character there is Santa Claus, not baby Jesus.

For those of us who have faith in Christ, the baby Jesus is of course the center of Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of our savior on this earth. But even though we live in a society where Christianity is deeply rooted and we can enjoy ourselves in a rich tradition of Christmas, we need to stop to think over the meaning of the birth of Jesus.

Because if we do not look into the meaning of the birth of Jesus and hold it tight, the feast of Christmas can turn into just one of the occasions of birthday parties. Christmas is actually more than that.

2.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”(John. 1:14).

This passage is the testimony of the event of Christmas. The only Son of God has become a human person; this is the wonder of Christmas, this is the miracle of Christmas.

I grew up in Japan, in a non-Christian environment. I went to church for the first time when I was 19 years old and was baptized when I was 21. I was the only Christian in my entire family. I was seeking for purpose in my life, and from the beginning it was easy for me to believe in an almighty God who is the center of the universe. But I found it so difficult and ridiculous to believe that the Son of God became a human person. How could it be possible? I couldn’t understand it.

35 years have passed, and now Jesus Christ is “the Thing” in my religious life. I noticed at some stage, that I could communicate with God because of Jesus. Without him, how could I try to approach God and his will?

Maybe I could feel the presence of God when I am in magnificent nature. I am sure that you would feel the same.
But that feeling doesn’t teach me how to understand the sins of man, the meaning of forgiveness or the importance of love among us sinners.

Through Jesus, through his teachings and behavior, we can learn, presume and be assured by what the will of God is, what his expectations of us are. Namely we are allowed to communicate with God on the level of our personalities. We have a personal relationship with God.

Our God is a God who makes a relationship with us, he appears in the human relations in our life. What does that mean? To think about it, we need to look into the meaning of Christmas.

3.
Jesus was born on the earth with his life mission – to rescue us sinners from our sins and liberate us from the law. This is good news for us, sinners.

But it was possible because of the decision of God the Father to sacrifice his only Son and the obedience of Jesus to his Father, all the way up to the cross. Jesus was born as a person for this purpose. He was not born to pursue his own happiness. What do we see here? We see the love of God the Father and his pain. We see the love of our savior and his pain.

In other words, when we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus and at the same time, his destiny that was bound with the cross and death in young age. This is the particularity of Christmas, and that is the absolute difference between Christmas and ordinary birthday celebrations.

“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is a highly profound statement and difficult to understand for most of us. Simply saying, it means that Jesus, the Son of God, was born.

But if I may add few words, by the birth of Jesus, the love and the pain of God have come to the center of our hearts. The love and the pain of God were put under our feet as our common ground. And on this ground, our lives as Christians are supposed to be build. Namely love and pain are supposed to be the center of our human relations.

4.
When we try to love, it can bring us certain pain. Please think how much these two, love and pain, are related in our life. For example, we love our children, and because of it we might worry about them when they are in trouble. If you fall in love with somebody, you might have pain because of it as we all know well.

When we are related with others, love and pain appear, almost always together. And sometimes we might avoid loving, avoid building a personal relationship with someone, just because we are afraid of being involved in a painful situation.

The other day this happened in one church in Reykjavik. A young man who was an asylum seeker was about to be deported. He had been an active member of the church, so some people of the congregation had a time for prayer on Sunday that we had believed was the last chance to see him.

I was there too and everybody had tears in their eyes, because they loved this man and they had a common pain.

This young refugee was in a human relationship with this congregation. If the people in the church had refused to make a personal relationship with him, because of his uncertain future, they would not have experienced the pain and sadness of losing this man. Fortunately his deportation was canceled, but this was an example that loving somebody or something can accompany pain.

Love cannot exist without pain, and pain is never in vain when there is love. Jesus teaches us this with his whole life. And when we cling to Jesus, love always conquers pain and it turns to our delight.

Soon a new year comes. I wish you all a happy new year, and I wish that you might walk in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, opened by his love and pain for us in each day of the coming year.

Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

Text: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, „This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’“) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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