As we head into December and the Advent and Christmas season, Checkpoint asked some of our CMS missionaries what the festive season looks like in their country and how they celebrate the birth of Christ into the world. This week we hear from Klaus & Jude Hickel in Germany and Brad & Michelle Jackson in Japan.
Advent wreaths in Germany—Klaus & Jude Hickel
The favourite time of year for Germans is Christmas time! Everywhere you turn there are Christmas markets, decorations, special foods and candles. The month leading up to Christmas, Advent, is just as important as Christmas Eve, when Germans celebrate Christmas. There are many traditions but one very common one is the Advent wreath. Every house has a wreath, usually handmade. But sadly many don’t recognise its message: the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the nineteenth century and it soon spread to other denominations and countries. The wreath’s circular shape represents God's everlasting love and its evergreen branches represent the hope of eternal life. Its four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, symbolise hope, peace, joy and love. Each Sunday a new candle is lit. Most people light the candles daily and Christian families often accompany this with a devotional.
Each year our church holds an evangelistic women’s event at the beginning of December and this year we will be making Advent wreaths together. There will also be an evangelistic talk and, of course, desserts! Please pray that many women would respond to the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ.
KFC and sponge cake in Japan—Brad & Michelle Jackson
Christmas is beautiful and festive in Japan as stores are decorated and Christmas songs fill the air. Children eagerly anticipate Santa’s visit and workers indulge themselves at end-of-year parties. In Kobe, Christmas also coincides with the gorgeous Luminarie light festival, commemorating the city’s recovery after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995—it looks like Christmas, but it’s not.
Japan has fully embraced the style of Christmas without Jesus and enjoys its own unique traditions. For families, Christmas means eating KFC and sponge cake, while for young couples, Christmas Eve is considered the most romantic night of the year.
Just like in Australia, churches in Japan make the most of the season to do evangelism. At the Higashinada Baptist Church, we have multiple kids’ Christmas events, we go carolling, we hold special services, and every small group and ministry has a Christmas party. We’re also involved in KGK university ministry and Young Life high school ministry, and each network has numerous Christmas events. It’s a crazy season.
As a family, we look forward to Christmas Day because all the craziness of December comes to an end. It’s a quiet day to enjoy each other, exchange gifts and speak to family on Skype. Christmas is a time when many missionary families miss their home countries and so we usually host a dinner. In 2017, we’re taking a break from hosting and going out to a restaurant with other missionary families to celebrate together.
This year, our family was gifted an early Christmas present—a copy of Tim Chester’s latest book for Advent, The One True Gift. It contains 24 daily readings encouraging us to focus on Jesus during Advent. We’re reading it as a family for our evening devotions leading up to Christmas. Although we should start on 1 December, we started early because there are so many evenings when one or more of us are out during the evening.
Every day is a great day to praise God for sending Jesus, but we love this time of year as a unique celebration. Caleb has been pestering us for the past week and so tonight we’re putting up our decorations. I’ve got 500 fairy lights to hang in the living room—it should be fun!
Praise God for sending his Son into the world and ask that the women attending the evangelistic wreath-making event at the Hickels’ church would respond with faith and thankfulness to this news.
Pray for the many Christmas events that the Jacksons and other missionaries attend at this time of year. Thank God for the opportunity to share the gospel with people who do not normally come to church.
Pray for missionaries as they celebrate Christmas far from their home countries, families and friends.