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2015 New Year's Service

Update:January 7, 2015

President Junko Hibiya addressed those gathered at ICU's 2015 New Year's Service on 6 January.

In her address, the president touched on the Epiphany, a day that celebrates the revelation of God's glory through Jesus Christ: "We, too, must not lose the will to seek the light of truth, especially when in darkness. Thus may we discover the radiance and light flaming in the place where God is. Let us live each day by following that light and pray for its guidance."

Full text of President Hibiya's address.

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Bible verses: Isaiah 60:1-6

Hymn: No. 411 "Lord of all being, throned afar"

Happy New Year! I am looking forward to working with you to make 2015 yet another wonderful year.

The New Year Service is held annually and today is January 6th, the Epiphany, a day that celebrates the revelation of God's glory through Jesus Christ. For the people of that time, the manifestation among humankind of the Savior sent by God and the disclosure that He would stay with them was surely an event that, like a ray of light, pierced the darkness.

In France, the Epiphany is associated with the tradition of eating a sweet called galette des rois. At the home of a French person, whom I often visited as an undergraduate student, this sweet was always served after the New Year holidays. Galette des rois is a pie filled with almond cream, and inside are ceramic figurines called fève. The original meaning of fève is broad bean, and, as its name indicates, it seems that a real broad bean was traditionally placed inside the galette. Among the ceramic figurines widely used today are fancy limited editions, and there are specialist collectors. Whilst preparing for today's message, I learned that in France there is even a museum with over 20,000 fèves in its collection!

In addition to fèves, what a galette des rois must have is a crown, made of paper, placed on top. When the galette is cut and eaten, those who find a fève become a king or a queen and get to wear the crown. Alas, I have never had such good fortune, but I still fondly recall friends who jubilantly placed the golden crown on their head.

Time prevents me from continuing with delicious tales of sweets. Let us turn our attention, therefore, to the beginning of Isaiah, chapter 60, which was read a moment ago. The first verse begins at the point where Isaiah announces, to the Israelites, the appearance of light in the darkness for the people who have returned from the Babylonian Captivity. Though the world is still in darkness, "the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you," as written in the second part of verse 2. In this way, the Israelites who were informed of the radiance of the glory of the Lord were no doubt supremely heartened and reinforced with hope. Verse 3 indicates the coming of the nations and their kings. Verses 4 to 6 expand on this and tell of the nations bringing back the children of Zion; of bringing along "the abundance of the sea" and "the wealth of the nations"; and the region's abundance of camels. Today's Bible passage concludes with "all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord."

These six verses are a prophecy of the "Gathering of Israel" from the perspective of Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1-12, which was read at the 2013 New Year service, records the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from another viewpoint: that of the nations. As you know, the Three Wise Men -- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar - learned of the birth of the king of the Jews by means of a star shining brightly in the night sky. They departed from the East and upon arriving in Bethlehem, they worshipped the child Jesus, who was in a shabby horse stable, offering Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The prophecy of the time of salvation -- that the nations will gather under God -- is hereby fulfilled. This marks the origin of the Epiphany. The first ones that came to worship Jesus were not Jews but those from the East. This episode indicates that Jesus came to earth as the Savior for all people. The star that led the Three Wise Men to the Savior 2000 years ago is none other than the light that even now guides each and every one of us, shedding light within and calling to our hearts.

Permit me to return to the stories of galette des rois for a moment. Roi means king. Here are some details. Galette des rois is in plural. Thus, this is the pie of kings not one king, that is, a pie of the Three Wise Men of the gospel. In the words of The March of the Kings, a French folksong about them, they appear as les rois, in the plural.

L'étoile luit et les Rois conduit


Par longs chemins devant une pauvre étable,


L'étoile luit et les Rois conduit


Par longs chemins devant l'humble réduit.

Bizet incorporated tunes from this folksong in the Overture and Farandole of ‪L'Arlésienne. I am sure that the melody is familiar to many of you.

In the beginning of today's message, I talked about the charming traditions surrounding galette des rois. It is said that if you find a fève at the beginning of a new year, good fortune will continue throughout the year. Since this sweet is also available in Japan these days, I wish that those of you who have an opportunity to eat galette des rois will find a fève and that 2015 will be a wonderful year. Setting aside what a fève may bring, let me elaborate on what for us is the truest fortune. Isaiah's prophecy, and the Epiphany teach us this: though we may find ourselves in the midst of overwhelming danger God's glory will unfailingly appear to those who do not look away, to those who speak of God's presence, to those who continue to search for God, placing hope in Him. We, too, must not lose the will to seek the light of truth, especially when in darkness. Thus may we discover the radiance and light flaming in the place where God is. Let us live each day by following that light and pray for its guidance.

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