Peculiar and Unexpected Ways

We had our last ladies’ English class of the year at our home, concluding with a fun-filled Christmas party and potluck  at our home.  In Japan, one always know when there is a party by looking in the entranceway:
We had done a secret-angel gift exchange over the past few weeks, which was a first for all of them.  It was great fun on Thursday to guess – and then reveal- the secret identities of our angels.  The ladies had a great time.
Because I am overly-familiar this year with our Asian Access advent devotional, I have been using one that I have loved from the past few years, Watch for the Light.  God has touched me at different times each December with meditations that cause me to stop, ponder, pray, and at times, be more intentional in all of the doingness that December requires.
A reading by an Episcopal priest, Gail Goodwin, touched me deeply.  She led an Advent worship service, and had a young high school girl from her church read through aalll the names listed in Matthew 1.  As the list of difficult-to-prounounce names went on and on and on, her congregation looked at her like she was a bit daft.  And then she began to talk about the people on that list – the very descendants of Jesus.  (The quote is a bit lengthy, but well worth it!).
“Matthew’s genealogy is showing us how the story of Jesus Christ contained – and would continue to contain– the flawed and inflicted and insulted, the cunning and the weak-willed and the misunderstood.  His is an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.
And what about that final fourteen generations of unknown, or unremarkable, names…?  Who was Azor, or Achim?  Who was Eliud, who was Eliezar?  Or even this Mathan, who was according to Matthew, Jesus’ great grandfather?  What did they do? … We don’t even know.  You won’t find their names in the concordance, or in any biblical Who’s Who.
And this is of course, where the message settles directly upon us.  If so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished down through the millennia by wastrels, betrayers, and outcasts, and through people who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, and through so many obscure and undistinguished others, isn’t that a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways?
Who of us can say we’re not in the process of being used right now, this Advent, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?

Yesterday as our ladies’ christmas party was winding down, we were passing out the payment envelopes.  I gave it back to one of the new moms, whose youchien son is in Eric’s class, and I sort of joked with her that if her husband or her daughter (9 months old) started English class they would get the family discount (if 3 come  from one family they get a discount).  She was surprised that Eric is teaching mens’ classes and was ready then and there to sign up her husband.  Some of the other ladies started sharing with her about Eric’s classes and how much their husbands have benefited and enjoyed the class.  And suddenly a Voice inside me said, “I want salvation to come to this family.”
The Christmas party took on new meaning.  It wasn’t because of secret angels or good food and laughter;  it was about the strange holiness that God was working in our midst through our relationships with these women and their families.  Those shoes in our entranceway represent women who are integral part of nuclear and extended families in Japan.  We believe that God has brought them into our home for His purposes.  I remember when we first met Aiko five years ago – she did not know Jesus but was interested in American culture.  She was baptized just six months later.  And her husband joined Eric’s English class — he was baptized a year ago.  And then just last Sunday her father, on his deathbed, prayed and was baptized into the Kingdom as well (see previous blog entry). Who could ever begin to guess God’s purposes?
This next week, as you meet a neighbor in the grocery store;  as we hear of a neighbor with a special need;  as we continue to do all of the parties and events that Christmas involves — be open to the surprising ways God may want to use you.  And I think –if God begins to abide in just one pair of those shoes in our entranceway, they could have a much greater impact on this culture than we will ever have.  Tomorrow as we have our ladies’Christmas tea and women from our kids’ schools, Annie’s dance class, our neighbors come to experience Christmas, I am quite sure that we will look back at some point and realize that God was using us, despite our flawed, undistinguished and human ways, to do his amazing and mind-boggling bidding.

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