Dung and hay before frankincense and myrrh

As an Asian and a first-generation adult convert, I wasn’t brought up with the traditions of Christmas. I vaguely remember as an adopted child, being brought to my natural parent’s house, and they had carolling there.  I remember being baptised on Christmas day 1981, in Faith Lutheran Church, Penang.  There was one Christmas when I just stayed home, with no sense of wonder or anticipation. 

My exposure to tradition ironically came when I was in Central Asia – in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the nativity scene came alive for me, with real camels, donkeys, little lambs and chickens fluttering around baby Jesus!  Not so much smells of frankincense or myrrh but that of earthy dung and hay!  This was the Christmas pageant in Peshawar in the 90s. 

I had an English housemate in Jalalabad who made sure that we had roast turkey on Christmas eve, though we had a hard time getting that big bird inside the oven, so (against tradition) she had to cut it into pieces before roasting it.  That highly sought-after bird was found by our local guard friend a month before. It would flitter and flutter up the mulberry tree to roost every morning. It became such a darling that it was hard for me to see it on the dining table!  I can almost hear the Fiddler on the Roof yelling out ‘TRADITION’!!!  Then it was the mince pies, which at first bite made me wonder where is that minced meat? Opening presents was certainly most enjoyable, inside the socks and under the tree! 

Celebrating and sharing religious traditions was still permissible then in that conservative war-torn country.  One year we had Santa Claus handing out Christmas gifts to the deaf children in the school.  The school driver, I think, was ‘chosen’ for that role, because his body somehow could fill up the Santa costume (Ho! Ho! Ho!).   

Recalling Christmas also reminds me of Advent, the first season of the Church’s liturgical year. 

I remember the four Advent[1] candles since that first time I set foot in BLC in 2009, but it didn’t go beyond seeing until a few years ago when I began to ‘observe’ Advent as a time of anticipating Christ’s coming and more so to look for the King who comes upon the clouds (Matt 26:64).  I am learning to appreciate these rich traditions/observances from ancient times that were not without cost (see the story Rama shared about the Fathers who joined the shaping of the Nicene Creed[2]).

We are a people of short memory, and shorter attention spans.  We are a generation of instant gratification, easily distracted and hence forgetful of the goodness of our Lord, of the love of God that has carried us. Our hearts are prone to wander, and we can be lost, without our knowing it. That’s why I appreciate the Church’s Liturgical calendar, our weekly worship/ readings, the Feast days, the altars, icons, paintings, the rituals, the Stations of the Cross, the practice of spiritual companionship as aids and reminders along the way.  I remember feeling upset when a certain church left out Good Friday, and only focused on Easter. I remember getting furious with those who propagate instant prosperity in God’s name.          

Advent is a time of longing and waiting, a cry for redemption and healing

We live in a time of crisis, of much vulnerability. Advent never masks the weariness of our souls, or the struggles of our lives. This is why Rev. Dr Kyle Norman encourages us to voice out, turf out, our longings and laments to God.  We create space to hear God’s promises, promises which are realised in the coming of Christ.  Christ is the divine response to our need for redemption. Thus, even in our longing, we hear the message of hope and renewal.[3]

The bible is full of stories of waiting and longing. God waited for his people (Israel) to turn back to him, and not once, but many times. His patience and mercy know no bounds.  The Father waits and longs for his estranged prodigal son to come home, calls him beloved even though he considers himself an unworthy outcast.  Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, the Syrophoenician woman, Jairus, the woman with the issue of blood, the demoniac, Lazarus, they all waited for Jesus, waited in anticipation for their healing, for the miracle of life. 

We all know what it’s like to wait.  I wait for the sun to rise every morning (even in gloomy days). The farmer waits for seeds to grow silently.  Perhaps the biggest miracle in life is the birth of a child. Mummy and daddy have to wait nine months before the little one comes out.  And what a bundle of joy! The child is definitely worth the wait!

And then there was Mary and Joseph. She too was with child, out of wedlock. I have often wondered what if she hasn’t said ‘yes’, but I think she was so special, she was chosen. God waited for someone pure of heart. Willing to say yes with no conditions, to bear His child, our Saviour (and you can count on the genealogies in Luke’s gospel).  And no wonder there was JOY unspeakable – Mary burst into song, the Magnificat, “the oppressed shall be set free, the oppressor will be brought down!”  It’s beyond my human understanding to fathom the fact that God, yes, the Almighty God Himself “took on flesh”!  The infinite becomes finite. The Omnipresent becoming a body present.  The vulnerabile God takes such risks to reach us, to love us back to Himself. 

I am resigned to the fact that it is beyond my comprehension, so I just sit in awe, bask in the wonder of that love, that miracle of Jesus coming and leading us to the mystery called Father.      

It is not only us who wait. God is also waiting for us.

He has been waiting since time began. He waited for me 26 years before I said ‘yes’ to him.   I discovered that the Prodigal Father loves me for myself, even the deepest parts of me that I know nothing of.  Just as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus comes and shows me my histories, parts of me that are still marred, broken, and invites me to “walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message version).

This is the Advent gift – God coming to us simply because He believes in us, in each and every one of us.  The Advent gift of a God who “invites us to a kind of intimacy to go to those dark and terrible places in our lives, not to transform them, but to come and wait in them so that the Christ can be born in them. The Christ who brings resurrection in his own time and in his own way”.[4]

And that hymn which we sang on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, really hits home:

I’ve got joy instead of mourning,

there’s beauty in my brokenness,

I’ve got true love instead of pain,

You give me joy deep down in my soul.[5]

Let us wait in Hope!

Let us embrace His Peace!

Let us shout for Joy!

Let us receive and share Christ’s Love!   

And let these be birthed in our everyday lives,

.. for unto us a Child is born, a Son is given, to bring Light that shines in the darkness, in our world, in our country, in our moments of doubt, fear and pain.  

Let CHRIST be born in us this Advent, this Christmas.  

[1] Tammy concluded her review of our responses to her Christmas survey with a discussion of the Advent candles. https://bangsarlutheran.org/i-asked-you-answered-christmas-is-magic-panic-romantic/

[2] For more, look here: https://armsopenwide.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/the-318-fathers-of-the-1st-council-of-nicea/

[3] Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman’s article on Advent.

[4] Monty Williams, SJ

[5] Thanks Nelson for the choice, song found here: https://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/joy-housefires/

3 thoughts on “<strong>Dung and hay before frankincense and myrrh</strong>”

  1. Love this piece SC. Will return to it over and over. Waiting for Him to be born in my light and dark moments or my perceived light and dark moments.

  2. Pingback: The violin, Jesus, and I – Bangsar Lutheran Church

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