Tag Archives: meaning of christmas

In Japan Christmas is over, and for me so is cynicism

Poster from outside a Japanese store

As I write this, the clock is about to strike midnight. Here in Japan, Christmas day is all but over. But from my Facebook feed I can see that UK folk are just sitting down to roast dinner.  In the States… I don’t know, I guess you’re watching the Super Bowl?

Anyway, my point is that in Japan Christmas has come and gone. Here everyone is moving onwards to New Years now. And I’m moving on too. But not away from Christmas. No, I’m moving away from cynicism.

I think I’ve alluded a few times in recent posts to the grip that cynicism has had on me recently. It’s always came fairly easy to me, but in the build up to Japan it kinda took over my thinking a bit. (And by ‘a bit’ I mean ‘a lot.’) I was cynical about people’s interest in what I was going to be doing in Japan, doubting whether folk cared about me.

I allowed feelings of bitterness to come into my heart. Bitterness towards God and towards others. I guess most people couldn’t tell, but others bore the brunt of that bitterness. I was, to be truthful, kinda a jerk a lot of the time.

Shortly after I arrived in Japan I really felt God call me out on that through a number of means. One of them was a blog post entitled ‘Starting Now? The End to the Cynicism’ It’s full of quotable lines like this,

The thing is: The cynics, they can only speak of the dark, of the obvious, and this is not hard. For all it’s supposed sophistication, it’s cynicism that’s simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is it to see the cracks?

It really challenged me, made me see how lame being cynical and critical was and made me want to indeed put an end to the cynicism in my life.

The thing is that somehow I wasn’t ready. I wanted to change, but I couldn’t see exactly how. Just how do you lay cynicism aside?

And anyway, this year has given me plenty of reasons to be cynical. The sudden death of my father and the unanswered prayers that came with that tops the list for sure. But also I’ve seen more clearly the brokenness of this world, and the depths of my own sinfulness––and how my tendency to selfishness and foolishness contributes to that brokenness. Cynicism seems more reasonable than hopefulness.

Except it’s Christmas. And this Christmas I’ve been digging deep. I’ve had to, because the general festivities haven’t felt very fun. And so this year I’ve also seen more clearly the power of the good news of Christmas to break through my cynical heart––to change me . . . to change Japan.

This advent I’ve been reading John Piper’s ‘The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.’ It ends with a Christmas sermon on that famous angelic announcement, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people on whom His favor rests.” Piper’s point is that it is the wonder of God’s plan to restore us to a place of peace with Him leads us to be peace makers with others.

‘Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins, God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement, that I, a sinner, have peace with God, that makes the heart tender, kind, and forgiving.’

So here it is now December 26th. Japan is moving on from Christmas, and I’m moving on from cynicism. Because the coming of Jesus was the advent of indestructible joy. For me, this year, the birth of Christ was the death of cynicism.

Merry Christmas!

(Yes that post was a bit messy. But come on, it’s Christmas! Or at least it was!)

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This year I’m focussing on the real meaning of Christmas (food)

There are now only nine sleeps till Christmas, and you know what that means, right? Yup, Kentucky Friend Chicken! At least in Japan it does.

A KFC Christmas Bucket

Now as a Brit this is one aspect of Japanese culture that I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to. I mean, come on . . . KFC? Seriously? That’s not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about a proper roast dinner: roast turkey, roast potatoes, pigs-in-blankets, stuffing, and of course literal pints of gravy. Followed up with some Christmas pudding with custard, and then mince pies.

But not in Japan. KFC have pulled off a move of evil marketing genius and somehow convinced the entire Japanese nation that a Family Bucket with a side of strawberry cream cake is the traditional food to eat at Christmas. I am impressed and appalled in equal measure.

So this year I’m seeking to address the issue of Christmas food in Japan.

Kinda . . .

Because here’s the thing: the thing I want most this Christmas is my dad’s Christmas dinner. See that was his meal. He did the whole thing, pretty much single-handed. And it was always insanely good. I guess maybe those years in the army helped, because the Christmas roast operation was a sight to behold and a delight for the belly.

But I won’t get to eat my dad’s Christmas roast this year. Or any year for that matter.

I was talking to a friend about this and she suggested that I use this as an opportunity to go deeper into the real meaning of Christmas. So that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m thinking through the Christmas stuff I’m missing this year, thinking through to the meaning beneath.

Starting with food. Partly because the KFC thing has weirded me out again, and partly because I’ve realized that food is one part of Christmas that I have never really thought about.

I mean, just what is the meaning of Christmas food? What does eating until you can’t move have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ? Does it?

I think it does. I just think that I’ve tended to not notice the meaning of Christmas food because Christmas has always been a really fun time for me. A fun, festive holiday season to finish off the year. In the UK that means chicken covered in gravy, in Japan it’s the colonel’s secret recipe. And if I’m honest, I’m actually a fan of both (and in Japan you can get your chicken wings with earl grey tea, which is a win in my book). So if I really tried, I probably could get through Christmas day on a high of chicken and cake.

But what about after that? What about New Year’s Day… Without my Dad. Easter…without my Dad. My Dad’s birthday… Without. My. Dad. It doesn’t matter how much fun I have this Christmas––and everything ‘fun’ will doubtless be tinged with sorrow––I still have to face 2015… Without my Dad.

No, I need something more substantial than turkey. I need something more satisfying than mince pies. I need a saviour. I need God. And the overwhelming good news of Christmas––the meaning of Christmas (and Christmas food)––is that the birth of Jesus Christ was God giving Himself for us to feed our souls on.

This then is the message I want to focus on this Christmas, when the Christmas music is stopped and KFC takes away the Colonel’s Christmas hat:

Christmas doesn’t mean we get to feed on fried chicken and strawberry cream cake. And it doesn’t mean we get to feed on roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Christmas means we get to feast on Christ.

“Whoever feeds on me will never go hungry.”

That’s Jesus: the guy who turned a snack into a feast, and water into wine. Miracles pointing to the deeper truth that He is the bread of life. If we go to Him, we never go hungry.

Never.

No. Matter. What.

Because unlike KFC in Japan, Jesus ‘the bread of life’ Christ is indeed for life, not just for Christmas.