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A2 Advent Devotional • December 15, 2010

by Tim Clark

I remember well the holiday season of 1990. I was living in Japan, experiencing Christmas far from Oregon for the first time.

I felt the 5000-mile distance most when I thought of Portland’s Peacock Lane, where each of the century-old homes is decked out with elaborate light displays every year. It was a stark contrast to what I saw in Tokyo where Christmas decorations were few and very far between, and Christmas lights couldn’t be seen anywhere.

I mentioned the lack of lights to friends in my English classes at Machida Grace Chapel. One responded that there were probably some at a certain “mission school,” a university with Christian roots, just one stop down the Odakyu train line. So we made a plan and went.

We took the train to Tamagawagakuenmae Station and found the campus. But we weren’t sure if the guard at the gate would try to stop us from entering. “You go first, Tim,” someone said. “While the guard is trying to think of how to say, ‘don’t come here’ in English we’ll follow you onto campus. Walk quickly and don’t look back.” It worked. We got on. And we found the lights.

We found the one tree that was decorated with very few, sparsely distributed lights.

While my friends commented on how beautiful the tree was I was privately having one of many “just keep smiling” moments, trying to maintain a friendly face while thinking, “This is it?! One tree? With a handful of lights?!” It was disappointing, but not surprising in a place where so few knew the Light of the World Whose birth we were celebrating.

Many things have changed in Japan in the two decades since then. Christmas decorations are everywhere! Here in Sapporo, Odori Park in the middle of town displays its “winter illuminations” in time for Christmas, and leaves them up through the snow festival in February. It’s one of the most beautiful light displays I’ve ever seen.

Christmas lights have become common, but the One whose birth we celebrate is still unknown. Holiday decorations and celebrations remain void of visible signs of Jesus. Even so, I trust He is present. I choose to believe that far more deeply than we can see, the Light of the World is at work in the dark places of society and individuals’ hearts.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This Christmas may Jesus give us increased conviction that He is powerfully at work in Japan, far beyond what we can see. Let’s believe that in 2011 much more of His unseen work will become visible as Japanese people in unprecedented numbers respond to Him who is the Light of the World.


Tim Clark
Regional Coordinator, Church Multiplication
Hokkaido, Japan

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