For many years my dad was the minister of a Korean congregation that was part of a much larger American church in Northern Virginia. Listening to my dad, (a.k.a. The Easter Island Head), give a sermon was always something of a revelation. Six days out of seven, he was a soft-spoken man of very few words. Behind the pulpit, however, he would transform into someone we barely recognized. His voice would thunder, swoop, and dive. He would gesticulate, he would lean forward, he would hiss. Even his silences were mesmerizing. My siblings and I could only understand a few words of Korean here and there, but such was his oratorical prowess that even we would be swept up in the dramatic ebb and flow of his sermon along with his enthralled congregation of native speakers.
One Christmas Eve he was asked to preach to the American congregation. The large sanctuary was overflowing with families dressed in their festive Sunday best. Their eyes shone in the candlelight and their cheeks were rosy as they squeezed into pews draped with ropes of fragrant fir boughs. There was a palpable sense of joyful anticipation as the congregation settled in to hear the familiar and well-loved Nativity story. As for me and my siblings, we were glad that we would at last have the opportunity to understand every word of our father’s sermon!
My dad has always been an iconoclast. Never was this more obvious than on that Christmas Eve, when he eschewed the Bible passages one might reasonably expect to hear on such an occasion for something far more unconventional…No glad tidings of great joy, no babe lying in a manger, no lion lying down with a lamb for my father. Instead, he chose the passage from the book of Revelations that talks about the breaking of the seven seals and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. You know, the one with flaming swords, earthquakes, cataclysms, blood and slaughter? In short: all the ingredients for a heartwarming and uplifting Christmas Eve service! One memorable line in particular will forever be etched into the very marrow of our bones. We invoke it at suitable moments to this day. At the climax of my father’s sermon, we heard in the thunderous intonation we knew so well from his Korean services: “Where in the Bible does it say you have to be happy?!“