(The following is a slice of the message preached on December 15, 2019.)
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God". (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Well, just 10 days to go now until Christmas. There are lights in the streets, Christmas music being played in stores. There are presents and Christmas trees and people are putting in orders for Kentucky Fried Chicken and sponge cakes.
It’s kinda weird being a Christian in Japan at Christmas time, don’t you think? On the one hand, for most of the year, we feel like a minority. There’s not many of us at all, and we don’t get much of a voice in anything. But then, for a few weeks in December, the whole country is talking about the biggest festival in the church’s calendar. … But just missing the point completely.
Santa takes the center stage in the Japanese Christmas. Santa is the focus, he’s the most important person in the Christmas story. You may have already seen a few different Santa Clauses walking around the streets, sitting in shopping malls, visiting schools, and that kind of thing.
Of course, none of those Santas is the real Santa. We know that, right? They’re just imitators. They’re imitating the real Santa. The real Santa has a red hat and a big red coat, so they put those on. Santa has a big round tummy, so they stuff a pillow under their coat. And of course, Santa has a beard, and he carries a sack full of presents, so they make sure they have those. And then they talk in a big, deep voice and say things that Santa would say. “Ho Ho Ho” and “Merry Christmas” and stuff like that.
So there are a whole lot of people, all over the world, imitating Santa right now. But actually, imitation is not something that only happens at Christmas time. Imitation is going on 365 days a year, and everybody does it. Babies imitate their parents. Young kids imitate their favourite TV characters.
But it doesn’t stop there. When people get older, they imitate successful people. So many people search for someone who is rich, healthy, or successful, and then they imitate that.
There’s a lot of imitation going on. Humans seem to be naturally adept at imitating others. And depending on who you’re imitating and what your purpose is, imitating someone could either turn out good for you, or turn out badly.
Now, I think that many of us have a slightly negative view of imitation. I mean, if someone shows you their Louis Vuitton handbag, or Rolex watch, you might think, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” And then you find out it’s an imitation … you’re not so impressed, right? And we often say, “Don’t copy what other people are doing. Be original. Be unique. That’s much better.”
And so, what I’m about to say may be a bit surprising: You and I, as believers and followers of Christ, are called to be imitators. You could sum up the whole of the Christian life that way … Be an imitator … of God.
In fact, that is exactly one way that Paul sums up the Christian calling. We read it in Ephesians chapter 5.
That word, “imitators”, is translated by some other English bibles as “followers”. Which is perhaps not so accurate. The word in the original Greek is: mimetai
Which is where we get the English word “mimic”. Mimic God. Be an imitator of God.
We can read this idea in other parts of scripture, too.
"I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy." (Lev 11:45)
People imitate the things that they worship. Have you noticed that? Some people worship pop idols. J-Pop or K-Pop groups are really big with students at the university where I work. People wear the same clothes, sing the same songs, learn the same dance moves as their favourite singers. They imitate who they worship.
Other people worship sports stars. Soccer or baseball heroes. They wear the same uniform. Sometimes they get a shirt with that players name printed on the back. They have the same number.
Our God is not a pop idol or a sports star. Our God is the one true God who is a holy God. The Lord says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
And so be imitators of God.
When you imitate someone, whether it’s a pop singer or a soccer player, what you’re really saying is, “This person is awesome! I love this person! This person is my hero, and I want to be just like them.”
And so it’s the same thing when you imitate God. You’re sending a loud message to everyone around you that God is awesome! God is my hero and my king, and I want to be just like Him.