Christmas Eve, 8:30 p.m. We arrive home after driving an hour and fifteen minutes through a snow storm in gridlocked traffic.
I am starving. We usually eat dinner at 5:30. But our church’s Christmas Eve service, which I planned and led, started at 5:15, and I was too busy dealing with last minute details even to get a snack.
I open the fridge; no leftovers. We cleaned out the fridge to make room for Christmas dinner. I open the freezer; it will take too long to thaw anything. I am hungry now. Why didn’t I make onigiri (rice balls)? Oh, right; I ran out of time. In the pantry, I find a box of my favorite instant ramen: the Maruchan Yakisoba Bento. Thank God, there is something to eat. I pour water into the Styrofoam box. I tap my fingers impatiently on the counter; three minutes seems like eternity.
I drain the water, mix in the sauce packet, and top the noodles with seaweed flakes. I take a bite: hunger-induced euphoria. Tears well up in my eyes. And then I am crying because it is Christmas Eve and I am sitting in the dark eating instant ramen while my husband eats a SoyJoy energy bar across the table from me. The advent wreath remains unlit; we are too tired to bother.
My family tradition dictates that Christmas Eve in the States goes something like this:
Morning: Sleep in. Listen to Christmas carols while finishing home-made gifts. Take a walk if the weather is good.
Afternoon: Cooking dinner and sweets. Spend time in the kitchen with my mom, and often other family members. Put on festive clothing after most of the cooking is done.
Dinner: Swedish meatballs with all the fixings, or cheese fondue; whichever one isn’t on the Christmas Eve menu will probably be our dinner on New Year’s Eve. For dessert, apple or berry pie (wild berries picked over the summer and frozen).
Evening: Open one present each. The others will wait until morning. Head to church (10 minutes away) for the Christmas Eve service. My family sometimes contributes some kind of music, but not every year. Go home, sleep. Merry Christmas!
When I became a missionary, I didn’t realize that Christian workers all over the world were sacrificing their cozy family Christmas traditions for the sake of their churches. I suppose I should have guessed; someone had to plan the services and events, write the sermons, and practice the music. Christmas doesn’t make itself happen.
I would like to say something positive like “we are making new Christmas traditions in Japan” or “I am happy to give up my Christmas traditions for the sake of the gospel,” but I’m afraid neither would be true. Christmas in Japan is busy, lonely, and bleak. It’s a normal work day, whether you are a missionary or a salary man. It isn’t special. Japanese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, and apparently missionaries eat instant ramen.
But the ordinary-ness of Japanese Christmas reminds me of the circumstances around the birth of Christ. Hardly anyone noticed; they were probably eating the first century equivalent of KFC and going about their business. Maybe the Roman census made an atmosphere like the year-end craziness that happens in Japan, with everyone rushing around preparing for the New Year holiday.
Only Jesus’ parents and the shepherds noticed that anything extraordinary was happening. They worshipped and pondered. Then the shepherds went away telling the good news to anyone they could find. This news was so good that they were undeterred by the bleak world that doesn’t care and doesn’t want to hear.
This Christmas, please pray for us to find the light and beauty of the gospel in the midst of darkness and busyness. May we taste and see that the Lord is good.
By Celia, an OMF missionary