The Message of the Manger

We received a pastry gift and a lovely brochure from Marriott Hotel given by a neighbor who works there as a chef. The brochure, both the paper and photos, speaks of classy elegance and opulence. It offers different packages for a stress-free as well as sumptuous Christmas Eve spread (noche buena). One package includes a 3-kg roast US prime beef and a selection of sides that makes my mouth water as I write about it. (By the way, the package I mentioned costs P10,000 ~ roughly $200+). The brochure also offers special accommodations for families during the holidays, especially on New Year’s Eve. They have prepared a place where guests join in the countdown for the coming year. It is an invitation to those who love the posh life.

manger

The posh life. Is it for those who love and follow Christ?

I know that if I were physically able to travel this Christmas season, I wouldn’t choose to celebrate Jesus’ birth in Marriott Hotel. It’s not that I don’t like plush hotels. (If our family were given a gift certificate to stay a night in one for free, we would receive it with gratitude and would probably avail of it). But it’s that, it’s not a priority and my eyes are on my humble Savior who chose to be born in a stable. There was no room for them at the inn, remember? Or at Marriott Hotel for that matter. Or Solaire. Or Shangri-la.

Why would Jesus’ birth story include the turning away of Joseph and the very pregnant Mary by the inn? Why was it so important to mention it? The story must be that the main characters would end up in the lowliest accommodation available. And that is where the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God-Incarnate, would be born. Was it another illustration of John 1: 10-11?

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Does this turning Him away still play on the stage of our lives Christmas after Christmas? Do we still fail to know Him and receive Him as other things occupy our hearts and minds?

The angel who came down from heaven to announce the Savior’s birth appeared not before the highest authorities (VIPs) in the land, but to unknown shepherds doing the night shift.

Is this the message of the manger: that God is not inviting us to a worldly-wealthy life but to kingdom life where His righteousness reigns? That He wants to divert our focus from the world, where materialism and covetousness are gods, to Him – His life, His ways, and His promise of a kingdom that never ends?

We read in 2 Cor. 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

Did He become poor in order to lavish us worldly wealth so that we would live in luxury, superfluity, and vanity? He Himself said:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

In The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21), the Lord tells the fate of a rich man “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” He warns us: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

For God, material and financial wealth alone are not the true riches.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:17-18)

He calls the worldly rich wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

So, why did He choose to become poor so that through His poverty, we might become rich? What kind of rich?

He said in John 10:10:

… I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Life and life abundantly. Abundant in righteousness, love, joy, peace, faith, hope, and all other enduring riches that flow from His everlasting kingdom. It’s the tri-fold blessing mentioned in 3 John 1:2:

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

Material, physical, and spiritual prosperity. But material prosperity and the great desire for it (it then becomes covetousness) should not consume us. It should not reign supreme in our lives. It should not serve as a stumbling block on our path as we walk towards God’s kingdom. Apostle Paul commands the rich not to trust in their wealth but in the living God (1 Tim. 6:17). And the Lord reminds us to not let “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, [so that] it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19).

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may His powerful love draw us nearer to Him, gathering us as His cherished children around the Christmas table with songs of praise and thanksgiving, of joy and peace, and of awe and adoration to Him. May we talk about His wonders, goodness, and faithfulness and all the other things we anticipate He will still do in our lives.

May He bring home the prodigals, humbly bending their knees before Him. May He cover those who are homeless, those who wander in the streets and parks and beneath bridges, with His love and protection and bring them comfort, deliverance, and salvation.

May He heal all that are sick and raise them up from their sick beds and that they will come to know Him and His salvation and live life abundantly.

May He fill our hearts and homes with His light and peace and joy and love overflowing this Christmas and beyond! May He answer all our fervent prayers and make our future so bright!

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Thankfulness

Since we can’t go away for vacations even during long holidays, my husband and I treated our kids to Walt Disney’s Holiday on Ice show at the Araneta Coliseum the Saturday after Christmas. My husband chose the location which was nearer the ice rink but it also meant pricier tickets. But we wanted to make the kids happy, so it didn’t really matter. Just to see them so excited about the show brought gladness to our hearts.

Late in the afternoon when they returned, I was anticipating them to be bursting with excitement and stories of their date with Walt Disney characters. But I was surprised to see them gloomy and sulky and not speaking a word. When I asked why, Hannah said that their Dad did not allow them to buy souvenirs. Oh. She said Tim wanted the light wand but Dad said there was no way he was buying it (P700 plus ~ $20). “Oh, yes, I wouldn’t have allowed that, either,” I said.

When their Dad came into the room, he murmured what ungrateful kids they were, shaking his head in disappointment. I was very disappointed, too. And sad. I just murmured for my husband to hear, “We’ll need to explain it to them. This is a serious matter and must be handled properly.”

Hannah quietly left the room while Tim continued to sulk, expressing his discontent by saying things like, “I’ll just give away all my toys because Daddy didn’t buy me the light wand.” And so it went.

As I pondered on this thing, I knew how far our old life in the province was compared to the life our kids were having now. When we were kids, life was hard. And even though our father worked in Guam, USA, life in our small town was generally simple, without the modern-day comforts. We were always grateful for what we received and enjoyed every moment of every treat that we were given, like a trip to the beach, for they were few and far between.

Yes, the life our children are exposed to now is far different from what my husband and I had. They are two different worlds. And I understood that we couldn’t force our kids to live that life which they hadn’t known. But we never wanted to rear our kids as spoiled brats, either.

In the early evening after I had rested, I called for them. I gently but firmly told them to bring their own plastic chairs and sit in front of me for we were going to talk about something very important. They were quiet now and subdued. In fact, they were no longer sulking. I began to tell them about the King who wore a sparkling robe and a crown that was bedecked with priceless jewels and who sat on a magnificent throne in heaven. And this King chose to come to earth, become a baby and be born in a manger.

“Do you know what a manger is?” I looked at Tim.

“It’s a — crib?” He answered, smiling.

“Yes, but this one is not made of brass and not lined with soft beddings like your comfortable flannel. A manger is actually a feeding trough where barn animals like cows, carabaos, horses, and sheep eat. And because these animals eat grass, what do you find in the manger?”

“Grass,” Tim answered quietly.

“Yes, and that also served as the bedding for the baby King, our Savior Jesus Christ. His mother Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. They didn’t even have cute baby clothes or pampers.” I then demonstrated to them what a swaddling cloth was and how to use it. It’s just a long piece of cloth.

“Why did the Lord Jesus choose to be born that way  – prickly manger for a bed in a barn where animal dung and noise could disturb Him – and not in a very comfortable house or hotel?”

“To teach us to be humble,” Hannah answered.

“Yes. And to teach us that material things don’t really matter but love. He wanted to show His great love for us.”

I then proceeded to tell them about the things we enjoy: our big house, their rooms and comfortable beds, their clothes, the cars, the food on the table, their toys, their Mom and Dad who love and care for them. I reminded them how blessed they are, even going to shows like Walt Disney’s, while there are many children around the world who don’t even have food to eat.

I looked at two pairs of eyes becoming bigger and rounder. The two had become so quiet and listening intently, taking in my every word. My voice began to crack as I continued to tell them about the importance of being thankful with all their hearts in everything.

“Dad and Mom treated you to a wonderful show but when you got home, all you did was —“

“— complain.” Tim butted in. Hannah and I burst out laughing. Tim, chastened, sounded like a grown-up.

But before I was finished, I could see how sorry they were. We closed in prayer, with bowed heads and raised arms, expressing our deep gratitude to the Lord for all His goodness and blessings. After the Amen, they both hugged me tightly and told me how thankful they were for everything.

 In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:18)

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