Thoughts on the Season

The deciduous narra tree has started shedding its leaves, carpeting the ground with bright yellow foliage. Soon, by Christmas, not a single leaf would be left and the narra would be as bald and forlorn as a dead tree, its limbs stripped naked for all to see. The birds, especially the maya, which make their home under its thick canopy would fly somewhere else, too. But I know, year after year, that the narra tree would go back to its full verdancy when the season is over, its faithful Creator clothing it with a new coat of lush green leaves.

Thoughts on Christmas

Through the years as I watched the narra, I have marvelled at God’s infinite wisdom and creativity. If we observe and listen closely, He is telling a story everywhere. Everything in His creation, there’s a story. In the past years, I would watch the green leaves of the narra turn yellow then relinquish their hold on the branches and fall, undulating, to the ground, graciously yielding to their fate. And yet, this is not the end of the tree.

Everywhere we look, as long as we open our spirit eyes and ears, God is telling a story. A message. A whisper. Everyday and everywhere, we can know the nearness of our God. For He is Immanuel. God with us.

David had known this. He wrote a beautiful psalm about it:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:7-10)

In early September, my husband went to our Church’s fasting house in Pampanga to offer prayer and fasting that was long overdue. When he came back, he brought home a big Christmas star. Pampanga is known for its Christmas parol: star makers offer a plethora of colorful stars in all shapes, sizes, and designs that could be lit up, the hundreds of tiny lights meticulously arranged beneath the translucent material dancing to a certain tempo and pattern. It’s a delight to behold.

He intended to hang it in front of our house that very same day. A Christmas star in early September! “Please, Dy,” I implored. “It’s too early for that. It’s not…it’s not appropriate. Maybe late-November. Christmas is not really about that,” I said as I thought of the Filipino way of celebrating Christmas. They start as early as September, lavishly adorning their homes with Christmas decor inside and out. Thankfully, he heeded my advice.

I think it was two years ago when I first felt the stirrings in my spirit to analyze (or question inwardly) the essence of Christmas. I don’t know but it was as if I had begun to grow weary of the practices. What I mean is, I’m weary of the routine of setting up a Christmas tree and embellishing it with all kinds of sparkly decor until it can’t almost stand erect. Now that I’m 48 and have gone through many trials and have walked with the Savior closer and deeper than I had ever dreamed possible, I want to ask: Really, where is Jesus in all that? I understand the joy of little children decorating it all round as a family activity. That is because it’s an age-old tradition that families follow so diligently (and pass on to their children). And with much passion, I might add. But, I wanted to dig deeper into the meaning of what we do. (I will talk more about the Christmas tree and other Christmas traditions on next post).

There is no escaping one’s notice the stark simplicity of the life the Lord Jesus Christ lived when He walked on earth. He was marvellous with His teachings and miracles, but He was as simple as you could get in His way of life. Unless we choose not to see.

The King of kings and the Lord of lords, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, chose to be born in a cold, dingy barn that stank of animal refuse. He chose to be laid in a manger with itchy hay for cover, the cows lowing and the sheep bleating in the background. The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness and heaven is His throne. He could have chosen to be born in a gilded palace, on a bed made of the softest down and snuggled in the warmth of a flannel as delicate as an angel’s breath.

But He did not. What was He trying to teach us? It must be something of enormous importance. Yet, we tend to miss it year after year as we celebrate and relive His birth. We tend to celebrate Him in the halls of mansions whose marble floors shine like a mirror. But He isn’t there, is he? Unlike the magi, we miss Him. We miss Him because we look in all the wrong places. Maybe in malls as we shop ’til we drop, buying the latest Michael Kors offering?

We miss Him because we bury Him under tons of decor. But in the beginning, there was only the barn, the manger, and the star. And the Savior of the world wrapped in swaddling cloth.

If we would just follow His light just like the three wise men followed the star, it will bring us to Him.

 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9 ESV)

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10 KJV)

What do I want to think about Christmas? I want to think of that night in the country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. (Luke 2:14)

(For the above passages, see Luke 2).

Good tidings of great joy, on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

That is what I want to hold onto even after the tall Christmas tree and the boxes of decor have been stored away. That is what I want to wrap my hands and heart around not only on Christmas but every. single. day. thereafter. The world’s Christmas, with all its pomp and phosphorescence, will lose its magic as the season changes. That is the tragic part of a flimsy Christmas tradition. But I never want to lose the glory of the good tidings of great joy, the gifts of peace on earth and goodwill toward men – Jesus, the ultimate proof of God’s love to mankind! He came down from heaven to offer the gift of reconciliation, an everlasting covenant of peace, the salvation of souls. He is the greatest joy!

This is what will see us through long after the reverberations of the multitude of angels’ praise have faded and we go back to the daily grind.

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When What You Really Want for Christmas is Christ

Saturday, our household was in a flurry as everyone looked for the missing hurricane glasses (see picture below). The maids said they had emptied out the whole cabinet where the Christmas decors were kept. No hurricane glasses. Toward the afternoon, I was beginning to resign myself that they were gone forever. Hannah and I toyed on a theory: Maybe the past maids broke them while we were away on New Year’s Day and dumped them in the garbage. Ugh! It hurt just to think about it. I liked those hurricane glasses from DaySpring and I had used them only once.

Tim left for the mall with his Dad. I settled to take a nap and before sleep set in, I thought on these.

The first week of December is gone and yet, we’re not done decorating. A few wreaths have not yet been hung; candles are not put in their places; poinsettia plants have not been bought. And the hurricane glasses cannot be found. The top of the piano will be bare this year. Well, come to think of it — it doesn’t really matter. The decorating can be left half-finished and who cares? Well, we do care because we look at our neighbors and how they have completed their decors inside and out and last month yet! But wait, if I don’t consider other people’s actions, I wouldn’t really care if our decors are not perfect. Why do I keep doing things which are an effect of what other people do? And why do we get ourselves so stressed up during this season? Not to mention the menu planning for Christmas Eve dinner (noche buena for the Philippines), the shopping, gift-wrapping, kids’  Christmas parties in school, etc.

I feel weary just by thinking about it. But this time, I will not force myself to get up and finish all the decorating (for the new maids don’t know where to put what). This time, I will not focus myself on perfecting decorations, I want to think about only One. I want to pursue Him as I’ve done the whole year. Christmas is supposed to be a time to celebrate Jesus and what He means to us, but it has become so commercialized, so stylized that its wonder and solemnity have been diluted to something material.

Can I just meditate on Him and His goodness as I lie here resting in His love? Can I just have Christmas that is full of the glory of the Savior and not the glittering lights plugged to electricity? One friend wrote on FB, after putting up their Christmas tree and completing the decorations in early-November: “It’s good to be done early so you can enjoy it longer.” I believe that’s the general sentiment of the whole Christendom. But is it the WHAT that we should be enjoying? Is it not the WHO? The King in the manger and not our spruced-up surroundings?

At last, I drifted off to a much-needed nap.

When I woke up half an hour later, I saw Hannah walking to and fro in the garden. I waved at her and she looked at me funny. “I will tell her she looked like a ghost walking there”, I thought to myself. But when she opened the door of my room, she leaned on the wall and sobbed and sobbed. She had in her hand a towel she balled and wiped her tears with it which were falling copiously.

In-between sobs, she told me what happened. She slipped while holding the vaio; it fell to the floor and the screen was shattered beyond repair. She was so scared of her Dad learning about it. She had been waiting for me to wake up so she could tell me first. (She knows that I always serve as “cushion” to the impact of her Dad’s ire when she’s done something wrong). She explained that she was making personalized Christmas tags and designing decors to surprise me with and to try to comfort me with the loss of the hurricane glasses.

She was a picture of complete repentance. Mercy flooded my heart and I gathered her in my arms. I rocked her back and forth, whispering gently, “Shhh. You didn’t intend to do it. I will talk to your Dad about it, don’t you worry. When I’m done, I will call for you and you will hug him and say you’re sorry, okay?”

She felt so relieved and said, “Thank you, Mom.”

Mercy. This is what I have received from the Savior. I knew then how I am (we all are) indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ. My forgiveness, my salvation, my life, my reformation, my hope of eternity – I owe it all to Him. This is what He’s done. This is what I want to remember. This season of Christmas.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

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