Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day

Most of the travel guide books I’ve read before coming to Japan say that most people under the age of 40 will understand and speak at least a little bit of English. Especially in Tokyo, they say. So, an English speaker shouldn’t have any trouble getting his or her point across.

Having been here for almost two months I can now say without equivocation that this is absolutely NOT true!

I may have told you this story before, but bear with me. About a month ago I was at a Tully’s Coffee shop and I tried to order a large decaf coffee. The young university-aged barista looked at me puzzled and pointed to the small cup. I shook my head “No” and pointed to the large cup. She looked at me with the same puzzled gaze and help up the small cup. I again, shook my head “No” and tapped the large cup. She shrugged her shoulders and made my coffee.

She said something to the other barista who then looked in my direction with the same puzzled look her co-worker had, but with a glint of amusement in her eye. The barista smiled as she handed me my coffee. I peeled off the lid to smell the coffee like I usually do (the aroma is half the coffee experience).

And I noticed a little foam floating on the dark liquid. I smelled it, tasted it, and realized that she TOTALLY misunderstood what I was looking for. Instead of a large decaf, she made me a triple espresso! Pretty much the OPPOSITE of what I was looking for!

I had to laugh because I realized that I hadn’t communicated my order well enough. It wasn’t the barista’s fault that I couldn’t order in Japanese in a Japanese coffee shop. The language created a gulf that no amount of hand signals or slow english nouns could bridge.

And when I talk with some Japanese people they often say “Sorry” for their limited English. And what I always want to say back is “No, you’re not the one who should apologize for your limited English. I should apologize to YOU for my infinitesimally small amount of Japanese. After all, I’m in YOUR country! I should be adjusting to YOU. You shouldn’t have to accommodate ME!”

Which is why, in the new year, I plan to make a more concentrated effort to learn Japanese.

I want to learn Japanese NOT just because it will help me get my order right at the coffee shop and make my experience here much more rich.

But I want to learn Japanese because words and language create a universe. They shape our view of reality. They form the lens through which we see the world. That’s why the words we use are important. Learning Japanese will help me learn more about the culture, and how Japanese people see the world.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.”

It’s common to talk about the bible as God’s Word, but here John is telling us that JESUS is God’s Word. Jesus is the mouthpiece through which God speaks.

Words create a world. It’s not just the words we proclaim that create, but the words of prayer we offer in tears, through clenched teeth, and even through mindless rote repeating over and over and over again, that mold us into who God wants us to be.

We believe in a God who, with a word, created something out of nothing. We believe in a God who shows us that words have tremendous creative power; and who also shows us that words that have devastating power to destroy. We believe in a God whose word is written on our hearts. We believe in a God who saves us through the Word that was made flesh.

That’s why we’re careful about the words we use in church. I know I am. Although some of you might not think so. But when I craft the liturgies and compose my sermons, I linger over every word. I try to be colloquial and parochial, hitting the balance between common language and sacred speech, between earthy nattering and heavenly declarations. It’s in the connection between those two realms that God lives in Jesus.

I try to link life and faith, connecting to where we say God is and where we haven’t thought about God being. In the words I offer you, and words I ask you to pray, I try to shape how you think about God in your life and in the world, because I believe in a God who creates a world with a word.

And today we celebrate the fact that God NOT stop speaking creation into being. Today we celebrate that God’s Word is still speaking life into the world. Today we celebrate because God has spoken the Word in YOU. God’s has spoken God’s New Creation story of Jesus in YOU. God has put the word of prayer on your tongue and the word of praise on your lips.

Now YOUR life becomes a Word - God’s Word. Your LIFE is the prayer Jesus prays. Your LIFE is the gospel message through which God proclaims. Your LIFE is the song through which God sings. Your word has been joined to God’s Word, so together all may know the love and forgiveness God has spoken in Jesus.

It’s a Word of healing you speak to all who are sick.
It’s a Word of comfort you speak to all who are grieving.
It’s a Word of peace you speak to all who are anxious.
It’s a Word of life you speak to all who are dying.

And in return you speak the world’s word back to God in prayer. You lift up the pains, the tragedies, the conflicts, the illnesses, the injustices of this troubled life to the One who promises to make all things new.

You are the one who calls upon God to make good on God’s promises.

You are the translation between the world’s word and God’s Word.

You are the Word through whom God is still creating the universe.

You are the message that tells the world, that there is forgiveness and freedom in Jesus.

You are the Word that gives others a glimpse into the heart and mind of God, which is filled to overflowing with love and mercy.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God. The Word was with God in the beginning.”

That Word is still speaking. Just look to the person on your left. Now look to the person on your right. Look to the person in front of you. Now look to the person behind you.

What do you see?

I see God’s Word being spoken so loudly that it’s almost overwhelming. I see God’s love and mercy being proclaimed with great passion and joy. I see the Word-still-being-made-flesh.

I see Christmas.

May this be so among us. Amen!

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