In episode 12 of Horimiya, the manifold relationships are bouncing in all different directions. Some are growing toward romance, some are in a weird in-between state, and some, like the relationship between Hori and Miyamura, are heading toward a reckoning. It’s a great picture of our lives during this season, actually, for while Christmas comes around the same day each year, the relationships that give it such meaning or similar don’t follow so predictable a rhythm. They ebb and flow as they please without consideration for our calendars. And in the coldness of the season, our relationships might be icy as well, suffering, dying, or even simply non-existent. Thankfully, the holiday itself points to the one whose love burns hot like a summer day, who is always steady, always in love with us, and always by our side in a world that is too dynamic and imperfect to hold such guarantees.
Miyamura and Hori’s relationship may be close to a perfect one by worldly standards, but even it is being tested during Christmas. Hori wants to spend the holiday with her boyfriend but he’s unable to celebrate with her. It’s a busy time of year for his parents’ bakery, after all (Christmas cakes!). Hori’s family members are disappointed too by his absence—maybe even more so than Hori herself.
During the conversation about Miyamura’s absence, Hori starts to consider the future. The two will be graduating soon. What does that mean for their relationship? As they each embark on adulthood, their paths may diverge. We in the west can even fully understand, for who hasn’t had a friend who broke up with their significant other once college or work life started (or perhaps even been there themselves)?
In our most recent podcast episode, Mike notes that Christmas in Japan is centered more on romance than it is in the United States. While that’s certainly true, romance plays a major role in the holiday here as well. The romance of a White Christmas, ads showing lovers cuddled near the fire, and all those dozens of Hallmark and Netflix movies explain to us that the most wonderful time of the year is only most wonderful when snuggled up with your magical true love. How can you escape it?
Even Buddhists can’t run from it.
I know I couldn’t. I’m married now and have been for many years, but I still remember the feelings of despondency on Christmas, especially when my parents moved overseas and I would spend the holiday by myself. My thoughts were consumed by a desire to be with someone. Would I ever marry and open extravagant gifts by my mantle while chestnuts roasted or popped or whatever they’re supposed to do over the fire?
Hori is feeling the pressure as well and maybe more than I ever did. She has an incredible boyfriend, but if their relationship ends, she will have lost something more valuable than gold. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I don’t know about that, Mr. Greenleaf—the impact of losing the love of your life after having been connected so intimately is one of those things that doesn’t always go away with time.
But this is anime, and a romantic one to boot. A breakup is not according to plan. Instead, the two will draw nearer (spoilers ahead). Episode 12 of Horimiya isn’t just significant for being a Christmas episode—it’s the one that ends with Miyamura proposing marriage to Hori. This is after she lovingly (and in her own Hori way, almost belligerently) confesses her desire to continue in their relationship after high school graduation.
But life doesn’t always—or often, or sometimes, or even occasionally—work that way. When relationships turn sour, fade away, or fail to lift off, to whom do we turn?
Since it’s Christmas, maybe we should turn to the baby in the manger.
The New Testament very strongly leans on language about Christ’s marriage to the church. Why use such a metaphor? Well, it resonates naturally. Marriage has been instituted since the first man and woman. It’s the model for our relationship with God, laid out cleanly in Paul’s writings (Ephesians 5:21-26). Jesus is the bridegroom who marries the church (those of us who are in relationship with him). And as the husband should, he risks his life for his bride; Christ lays down his very life for her.
The Bible makes it clear that God is not just the most important person in our life; he is everything. And so our relationship with Christ is the one that brings fulfillment. Our marriage to him is all we need.
It sounds like a platitude when I encourage us to focus on our marriage with him and not on worldly romance of earthly marriage, especially for the single people out there. I understand that. And if your Christmas reminds you of failed relationships, like mine once did, it may be difficult to get into the mindset that Christ will meet your every need.
The culture around us—and I don’t think this was any different in first-century Judea (another reason, perhaps, that NT writers leaned heavily into this analogy)—pushes us toward where our emotions already trend, finding our all in all in someone else. But as any married person will attest, including myself, you won’t find that perfect fulfillment in another person. And without the hard work of daily sacrificing yourself, marriage will be unsuccessful. It’s not a walk in the park; it takes continual effort and love to keep going when the marriage isn’t shiny and new, when it’s difficult, when your partner’s ugliness comes out ferociously and perhaps for days, weeks, or months at a time.
That crackling fire and romantic kisses in the snow? Um, yeah, no—who wants that when you’re fighting with your spouse or when it costs too much to visit a cabin in December (inflation) or you’ve already done that four years in a row?
The romantic decorations can only do so much.
But marriage with Christ offers us more. You see, the very best of earthly marriage is a foretaste of what we’ll enjoy in heaven one day and a model of what our relationship with him should be. Christmas gives us a prompt, a moment in time every December, to look at the remarkable quality of his love, that he would come as a baby, live a difficult life, and then go the cross—all for his bride.
We may be seeking earthly satisfaction this Christmas, but have we forgotten a greater one? And have we forgotten that it’s his love and graciousness that even allows it? For if you get into that pity party on Christmas Eve or Day, you may be doing so forgetting who you are and how a perfect relationship (which again doesn’t exist this side of Heaven) isn’t owed to you.
Hori understands the same. Miyamura is pretty close to a perfect guy, and in seeing him for who he is, Hori can’t help but explain her condition. She admits that she doesn’t deserve someone like him.
Miyamura’s love for Hori knows no bounds. He will marry her. He will stay by her side. He will make her happy, maybe in a way that can only happen in anime marriages, with a perfect kind of love. Well, in anime marriages and in one with Christ who likewise loves us perfectly. He loves us even though we’re like Hori, full of selfishness and fault. He loves us even though we seek worldly relationships and ignore him. He loves us even though we don’t deserve it and he doesn’t have to. He loves us anyway.
Christmas is proof of his love. So too is what’s on the other side of Christmas—the cross and the resurrection. He is our perfect bridegroom, and though he may not be wearing fashionable winter wear while hugging you in the snow with a golden retriever bouncing up in down around you, he is doing something far greater than the imagery we might imagine of a lover. He is making a way to rescue you now and has made a way to rescue you for all time, so that you can spend it with him. He has laid his life down for you.
And this Christmas, what better spouse could we hope for than that?