The first Christmas after the Mizusawa Karuta Club has formed is a fun one for each of the five members, but it’s a little blue as well. It comes right on the heels of Chihaya losing during the eastern master qualifier. To make matter worse, the team members, who are now bonded tightly, don’t even get to spend this special evening together. They’re attending separate parties with their classes (with the exception of Chihaya and Desktomu-kun, who are in the same class).
By this point in the series, the club has come far in developing as a team. Chihaya, Taichi, Kanade, Porky, and Desktomu-kun have fully bought into the goal of achieving their highest possible reach in karuta as a team and supporting each other individually in the same efforts. Once a ragtag group with various motivations and interests, they now long to spend every evening and even their special moments with one another.
But Desktomu-kun, at the Christmas Eve party he’s attending with Chihaya and other classmates, sees something simpler and maybe profound about their club.
He sees them as family.
It’s interesting that Desktomu-kun brings that concept up, even though the characters are spending their holiday with friends with nary a mom nor dad in sight. It’s certainly fitting with the season, as family, of course, is a critical part of the Christmas story. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are a makeshift family, while Jesus is himself God’s only begotten son.
Later, after he has grown up, Jesus frequently refers to family, though interestingly enough, it’s rarely to the traditional kind; he often talks about the family of believers. For instance, at one point during his ministry, Jesus was told that his family had come to see him, to which he responds:
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”– Matthew 12:48-50
Jesus points to his disciples when talking about family, to fishermen, zealots, and Roman collaborators, among others. If there ever was an oddly diverse group of men, this was it. No surprisingly, they didn’t always get along. We’re privy to a few of their disagreements, but can you imagine the arguments that weren’t recorded? Think of how Peter the revolutionary would have gotten into with Matthew the tax collector!
And yet, the disciples are bonded with one another. They seek each other’s company. At their darkest moment, after Jesus was crucified and buried, they joined together in a hidden room.
The disciples and later Christian demonstrate the concept of the body of Christ. Each member of the body, no matter how different they are from one another, has a role to play:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
In fact, Paul goes on to explain that all parts of the body, as different and disparate as they may be, are essential, and those typically not seen are vital and held in high esteem. That passage reminds me of Kanade, whose love for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and her emphasis on treating the poetry properly through etiquette and dress may at first seem less significant, but her passion is necessary as a glue to bond the team together.
Kanade loves karuta with as much passion as the others; she just brings different ideas, thoughts, and hopes to the club than Chihaya and Taichi do. She’s an indispensible part of the club, as are each of the other members, who are bonded together with a common goal and abiding love for another. They are together what Desktomu-kun defines as “family.”
I think this is exactly the type of camaraderie that Jesus desires of the church—exactly what he’s talking about when he says that those who follow God are his brothers and sisters. And yet, if I’m being completely honest, church doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes, it lacks the intimacy I desire. It lacks the willingness of members to share and be ourselves, like when Chihaya breaks down, cries, and locks herself in a closet after losing at the beginning of this episode. Sometimes it lacks tender care, like the kind Taichi exhibits in being unwilling to leave Chihaya when she’s in that state. Sometimes what’s missing is a desire to be involved with each other, as demonstrated by the longing each club member has for each other on Christmas Eve.
It’s easy to become bitter when a church family doesn’t live up to expectations. When I’m in that place, I’m often confronted with this, though: I’m part of the church, too. Am I doing for them what I want my family to do for me?
If I desire for my church family to “be real,” throwing away platitudes and getting down to the honest struggles and pain we’re enduring, have I been willing to be the first do so? If I want to get to know my small group members beyond prayer requests and religious talk, have I shared my interests with them? If I want my church friends to check in on me, have I called on them when they’re absent or I know that they’re sick?
Forging the deep bonds of family takes work. Like the members of Mizusawa Karuta Club, I have to put in practice if I want my local church body to become my family.
If you have any lingering bitterness as I’ve had; if you haven’t invested enough in your fellow congregants to build a meaningful connection; if you otherwise feel disconnected from your body, perhaps Christmas this year is an encouragement to take a step forward with your family. After all, the 25th lands on a Sunday this year, the day of gathering for church. If you miss it in 2022, Christmas won’t come around again on Sunday for a while. Because of the intricacies of our calendar, it won’t fall on a Sunday for another eleven years.
I think if Chihaya and all the rest were told that they couldn’t gather together as a karuta team on Christmas for more than a decade, they would break all their other engagements to spend that time together. They would want to celebrate Christmas together as a family.
As the 25th draws near, it’s helpful to remember that while Christ came for us personally, he also came to save us unto the Church. He loves the church body, as flawed as it can be. After all, it’s his family. And it’s yours, too.