Nearer, My God, to Thee

Many Filipino homes, even the humble ones, start decorating for Christmas as early as September. Like the heavily-decorated Christmas tree, the house, both inside and outside, will soon be smothered with decor in all shapes, sizes, and colors, too. Prettily-wrapped gifts will start accumulating under the Christmas tree. I’ve seen photos of mountains of Christmas gifts taking up most of the living room. Most Filipino families, whether they can afford it or not, like to lavish their children with gifts on Christmas. It is during this season that purses seem to have no bottom, “shop ’til you drop” becomes the byword, and malls run over with droves of shoppers.


These Christmas traditions the world knows so well. Our young family is part of this, too. It’s not only the world around our children which has influenced their affections toward a materialistic Christmas. I admit, we as parents have brought about that, too. I sigh now as I see how difficult it will be to change that.

Why do people want to start Christmas early? Is it because they are so hungry for the Messiah they can hardly wait to celebrate His birthday? Or do they want to lengthen the season just to hold onto the magic of merrymaking? For there’s a certain thrill that the Christmas season brings, we can’t deny that. When I was a child, whenever I heard our Ray Conniff Christmas album being played, I would be enveloped with indescribable excitement and happiness. I knew then that it was Christmas. I could feel it. I could inhale it. I could even taste it! Such are the joys Christmas brings to children. And I know, adults would want to capture that, too.

That’s why they want to put up the Christmas tree early.

So, do we pursue the Savior or the magic? If we are honest enough, most of us have set up the pedestal of Christmas tradition higher than the Lord Jesus Himself. For He is there, cradled in a lowly manger. And we miss Him. And His will.

Nowadays, I often wonder: What does the Lord think of our Christmasing? Of the lavish Christmas tree sparkling with expensive ornaments? Of the Christmas table laden with feast fit for a king? Or maybe the rich man’s table where Lazarus waited for crumbs?

I really want to know how the Messiah, who, via an angel, invited poor shepherds to His birth, sees our celebration of it.

I think He just wants us to know and receive His gift – how precious, how all-important it is:

 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:11, 14)

Maybe we should ask ourselves these questions: Does every ornament we hang on the tree, on the door, on the window, on the stairs railing, bring us closer to the manger? Is every gift we wrap a step closer to it? Does our Christmas draw us nearer to the God in the manger, the Immanuel?

Does our Christmas still have Christ in it? The very front and center, meaning, and reason of it? Or have we X-ed Him, not only on the banners we hang but on the banners of our hearts? (No, not because we don’t like Him in it, but because we have lost Him in the thick of the hustle and bustle of a hectic Christmas. What with all the decorating, planning, baking and cooking, parties, shopping expeditions, and travels we do). Is Christ, pure and simple, at the heart of our Christmas? Would we still feel full even if we hadn’t completed the decoration; hadn’t baked all the breads, pies, and cookies we had planned; hadn’t bought and received all the gifts we wanted; hadn’t traveled?

The question really is: Is Jesus ever enough for us? On Christmas and beyond?

The truth is, He is really more than enough.

If we are true Christ-followers, He is always in our hearts no matter the season. In fact, he dwells there. He is not only the reason for the season, he is the reason for life itself! Every plan, every step, every endeavor, every trial must be a step nearer to God. Then, Christmas for us is not only in December (or September, October, November), but every single day of the year!

Friends, may our Christmas find us gathered around the manger where our Savior is. May we behold His glory and never get tired to give thanks for His gift: the gift of salvation. May we always remember the perfectness, the beauty of His gifts: great joy, peace, goodwill [an attitude of kindness or friendliness; benevolence; a good relationship] to us all! That it is only through Him that we could find these exceedingly wonderful blessings and not through the things we possess and fuss about. Jesus is the gift.

So with this in mind, may all our activities bring us ever closer to Him, worshiping Him with all our beings through them.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

May the light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine ever brighter in our lives than all the Christmas lights and stars combined.

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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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Journey with Jesus,