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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
There is a Hank Williams Jr. song titled “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie.” I have usually heard the song sung with “Texas” inserted for “Dixie.” In Hank’s song the opposite of “heaven” (Dixie) is New York City (hell). I wonder if this song has been translated into Japanese because someone in the news this week traded away heaven for the Big Apple. No wonder she waited four years before she took the plunge.
The headline in the South China Morning Post proclaimed “Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries university sweetheart Kei Komuro, leaves world’s oldest monarchy.” On Monday, Princess Mako married a commoner and signed away her connection to the Chrysanthemum Throne. The couple had announced their engagement in 2017. According to Japanese sources, the royal family was founded in 660 B.C. by Emperor Jimmu who was a descendent of sun goddess Amaterasu. The Japanese title “Tenno” (heavenly sovereign) used for their emperor reflects this divinity. Now Princess Mako is just “Mako,” and Mako and Kei will live in New York City instead of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Princess Mako is not the first person to give up the perks that come with being a god. Such a renunciation is at the heart of the New Testament. This abdication is stated most clearly in Philippians 2: “Christ, who was truly God, did not think his divinity something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by becoming a human-being and a servant. As a human, he humbled himself by obeying the decision that he should die on a cross” (Php 2:6-8). Jesus gave up even more than Princess Mako since crucifixion is even worse than living in New York City.
For the sake of full disclosure, as a princess, Mako never was in line to become “heavenly sovereign.” The Japanese Constitution does not allow for a woman to become emperor. In addition to this, Emperor Hirohito signed away ‘divinity” in the 1946 version of the Japanese constitution. So, it was no surprise that when he died in 1989, Emperor Hirohito stayed dead. Remaining in the tomb is the opposite of what happened to the other person who renounced his divine prerogatives. Jesus said, “No one takes my life away from me, but I choose to lay it down. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). Three days after he was crucified, Jesus rose from the grave. And while Jesus is worshipped in New York City (and elsewhere), he chose not to live there. As it says in the Apostles’ Creed, “He ascended into Heaven, and he sits at the right hand of the Father.” That is where God should live.