Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Dying to Live like Baby Jesus

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2012 at 8:41 am

(This was the very first draft of an article I wrote when I misunderstood the target audience!  It is so rough that you will see my thought processes all in a jumble but I share it here with you).

Imagine being told your unborn child was not going to survive childhood because of an inherited genetic disorder.  Would you continue with the pregnancy and bring the child into the world knowing what you know about the realities of this earthly life?


When I had my 3rd child in the US, I had to fill in many forms and answer more questions than I had ever done with my previous 2 pregnancies in Singapore.  I learnt that certain ethnic groups were predisposed to particular hereditary medical conditions.   I tried to point out to the nurse that I was not from that ethnic group but it didn’t change the expectation that I answer every question to the best of my knowledge and ability.  The point was to make sure everything that could possibly be done for this child would be done should s/he be found to have any congenital disease.  Prevention was, thus, deemed to be better than cure.


Yes, why bring children into this world?  If Facebook posts and comments are anything to go by, every child should be saved from having to face the dreaded Primary School Leaving Examinations in Primary 6.  Yet, we are also torn.  We want our children to be resilient, to have the right tools and skills to not only survive but to thrive and succeed in this world where we are still measured by what we can do, produce and market. 


So we waffle between what our children should be and what our children should do.  We want good character traits like kindness and generosity but we want them to be assertive and aggressive, too, because we live in a world whose values we have been called not to be get sucked into.  We are reminded enough by sermons and Bible studies that we are in this world but not of this world.


Then the Incarnation.  God choosing to become a human being.


Many of us think that God sent Jesus to save us from the punishment of our sins and as soon as we can get that settled, we are A-OK!  That’s why we work so hard to get our not-yet saved family members and friends over the line, so to speak.   It’s almost like a sales target some of us believe we must meet.  Getting them out of hell is top of our bucket list and by golly, we’ll do it by hook or by crook.


Please do not get me wrong.  There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to see our friends and loved ones saved and moved out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.  We should all want that (even if sometimes they’re not so interested themselves).  What we need to think about is why in the world did God send a baby to do the job?


What job?


In the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, the road to Calvary was literally paved with the shed blood of the man Jesus the Christ.  We think of those scenes and close our eyes and turn our heads away. How bloody and how violent!  We saw how Satan was depicted and we felt shivers down our spine when we acknowledged the human involvement in the punishment and eventual death of the man Jesus.  So let me ask you, how many times since then have you re-watched the movie?  How has that movie impacted your earnest desire to follow the teachings and life of Jesus Christ?  Watching him die and be reminded that he went through all that because of me and my sin would make many people fall at the feet of God in thankfulness and deep gratitude.  But it would make just as many people turn their backs on a God who would exact such a payment for the sins of humanity.  We face such tough theological questions or we do not face them and we avoid any thought or discussion on the Atonement or the Sacrifice or the whole Passion of Christ.


So what has this got to do with Christmas?  What has this to do with the job God wanted done?


Hard questions.  Struggles.  Mental anguish.  Fear and insecurity. Anxiety and dis-ease.  Apathy and indifference. Disdain and disrespect. Chaos and disorder. Conflict and tension. Unclarified doubts. Hunger and poverty.  Discrimination and exploitation. Hard questions.


These things mentioned above will not end.  In the same way, the poor will not go away as Jesus pointed out to his disciples. So if these things will not go away, do we ignore and avoid them?


Jesus came to take care of the consequence of human sin.  That’s why we have such movies like The Passion of the Christ to help us remember.  But Jesus also came to help us take care of the consequence of our human nature – the saved and being saved nature, the nature that yearns for release from the earthly toilsome place and be set free to the realms of heavenly glory.


But I joke, don’t I?  It seems to me people are pretty much holding on to this earthly life and believing this is the end all and be all of our existence.  We seem caught up with our personal pleasure and enjoyment of the blessings this life has to offer.  We attribute it to a good God who wants us to have an abundant life and so we chase every opportunity to secure our share of the blessings.  This scenario I’ve just described is one based on a perspective steeped in the affluent lifestyle of many cultural Christians in many first world and developed countries. We can buy our peace of mind, we can buy our joy, we can even buy enough presents to give away at Christmas to secure a better divine return on our investments.


The questions are still unanswered, the doubts still unclarified and the anguish in our minds is still there.  I have my salvation.  I have my ticket to heaven.  But why am I still unsatisfied?


Why did God send a baby knowing that in the baby’s DNA he would suffer horrendous treatment and be killed by age 33?  Why?  Well, of course, it was all for you but that doesn’t answer my question that I posed.


What is the job the baby came to do?  It’s easy to focus on his birth and the rough conditions the many paintings do not really capture.  It is easy to remind ourselves with a good reading of the Nativity passages that many paid a price because of this promised child.  Babies were killed, mothers were robbed of their progeny and the course of history was changed for eternity.


The baby in the cradle came to show the way of the warrior. A non-violent, love-filled warrior who prior to his foretold death, lived the Christ-one’s life which is, believe it or not, a possibility and a reality for us here and now.  The baby Jesus resisted evil and wickedness with love.  The baby shows us that in the midst of human wickedness and evil intentions and actions, love will prevail.  Yes, bad things will happen and will continue to happen.  Human beings will still act sinfully and choose stupidly and foolishly.  But the baby shows us that we can actually overcome all these with love.


This is why Christmas.  The baby shows us how to BE and not just DO.  It is in our being that we will do the godly that will make the earth a place of goodwill until we all, eventually, get to heaven.


If there was such a thing as a divine prognosis of this baby’s earthly end, no human parent would want too see the awful result but the Divine Father knew the awe-full end was the glorious beginning of the future of humankind.


Live as the baby grew and lived his life until he met his end at 33.  Meet him in the community called church and in the words he left behind as signposts for “the living of these days.”


Live your Christ-cradled life in the shadow of the Cross of Christ.



Baby, Oh, Baby

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2012 at 8:21 am

Let me come straight to the point.  God sent a baby to be the saviour of humankind.

A baby?  A baby.

What good can a baby do, you might ask?  You and I know pretty well that babies need taking care of practically 24/7.  Babies are helpless; cute but helpless.  What good is a baby when the world has been, is and probably will be going down a certain road of destruction?

Those of us who see things with a glass half empty perspective may believe that there is no amount of help anyone can give us to enable us to come out of this hot, gory mess we human beings have gotten ourselves into.  Global warming, threat of nuclear wars, economic crises, genocide, PSLE worries and anxieties, …

Alright so I’m being a little facetious here.  But hey, if Facebook posts and comments are to be believed, Singapore’s premier school examinations, the Primary School Leaving Examinations are about the worst type of suffering children and their parents can face in the present milieu of meritocracy and elitism.  We need saving from what the PSLE does to us and our peace of mind.

I see a lot of Singaporeans talking about migrating and seeking a better quality of life for themselves and their children.  I also know that many have already made that step and left Singapore for prospects beyond their wildest dreams.  This is, of course, until they find out that what they experienced while they were holidaying is quite different from real life and having to establish oneself in a new community and start paying taxes, too.  But for every one struggling migrant is another migrant who has made it, and made it qualitatively, “rich”.  We love seeing their pictures on Flickr and Pixable, those bucolic and pastoral scenes of life outside of Singapore.

Do excuse me, I write this from outside Singapore.  I am one of those who have left Singapore and moved to a different country, not once but twice.  Maybe I am not the best person to write this piece.  Maybe my perspective is skewed by what I see on Facebook and not what is happening in real life, in the heart of the heartland communities of Singapore, in Ang Mo Kio, in Bukit Merah, in Hougang and in Woodlands.  Maybe I don’t know what it is to really live the Singaporean life.  I am privileged.  I have an education.  I have a computer and Internet access.  I have an iPhone (not yet 5!) I have a roof over my head even if it is a rental.  I have access to medical care and public services.  Of course, my husband earns an income and pays taxes but that, too, is a privilege, it means he has a job.

Yet, I think I do have some perspective to share with you why I think in order to not only survive in this world but to thrive, it is important to consider the gift God gave us in the baby born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough. I write this as a missionary in a foreign land and once a missionary, always a missionary.  So my view is skewed, skewed by watching a very loving God at work in the world.

This baby was a love child.  It took the great incomparable love of God to leave the glories of heaven to be born of common folk in order to enflesh the divine and majestic yet personal love of God for you and for me.

Undeservedly we have become recipients of a gift we didn’t know we needed.  We may have searched for meaning and for purpose.  We may have sought direction in life.  We are looking for guidelines to live this life.  We seek high and low for some sense of control over our hectic, crazy, uncentered lives. We want friends but they seem to avoid us.  We make friends but end up neglecting our aging parents.  We want to enjoy ourselves but we have to go home and look after our children because we cannot leave the domestic helper with them for 20 out of 24 hours of each day.  We are looking for a bright future, we hope for a job that will pay well enough to enable us to take 3 vacations a year, we wish for time to chill with friends after work and sit at cafés and pubs until the wee hours of the morning before we have to return to the workplace and report for duty.

And we miss this gift given to us so graciously by the God who calls us by our name.  Quietly and personally, God beckons us with wooing that we fail to respond to.  Such love poured out for us but we quickly fill waking hours with the din of work, play and busyness.

And then “Ka-pow” it hits us again. We have to find our heart’s true home.  Something pulls us to the great Mystery of Love, the Great Giver of Love, this baby they call “Jesus” who is Love.

The late Henri Nouwen wrote, “The great message of Jesus is that God loves us first and that we can love one another only because God has loved us first. Jesus calls us to come home to that first love, which precedes all human loves. This is the original blessing, the original acceptance, our original home.”

I think it is because we do not yet understand what this first love is that we are trying to fill our lives with all kinds of loves and many of them quite wrong for us.  So we end up living our lives like hamsters constantly running on the wheel – burning a lot of energy but getting no where and not only that, we grow increasingly frustrated and angry.

If we can wrap our minds around this incredible truth of “God loves me” I believe it will give us the foundation we need to live this earthly life with a perspective that is more than the glass is half full.  In fact, we will neither see it as half empty nor half full but “always overflowing”.  This is how we are meant to live our lives, lives centered and founded on this baby who came to live in a non-descript little town but who grew up showing us that even though we are human with all that encapsulates, we are spiritual and we are more than capable of a living relationship with the true and living God.  What is incredible is that while we may not be able to fathom all these things, the truth of the matter is that if we are willing to follow in the footsteps of this baby, we will discover such a great love that is waiting to wrap us up and bring us through the journey we call life in our island state.

Let me share with you a Christmas hymn that’s always touched me deeply from the first time I sang it.  It’s called “Star Child”; (I personally prefer the tune by Carlton R. Young and not the guy who posted his video on YouTube).

Star Child, earth Child, go between of God,

love Child, Christ Child, heaven‘s lighting rod,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Street child, beat child, no place left to go,

hurt child, used child, no one wants to know,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Grown child, old child, memory full of years,

sad child, lost child, story told in tears,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Spared child, spoiled child, memory full of years,

wise child, faith child, knowing joy in store,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Hope-for-peace Child, God‘s stupendous sign,

down-to-earth Child, Star of stars that shine,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Words: Shirley Erena Murray (Matt. 2:1-12)

Music: Carlton R. Young

1994 Hope Publishing Co.