Another year has flown by and we still cannot dine out as a family – thanks to all the safe management measures of this present pandemic we are in. Perhaps that’s why our Christmas photo looks the way it does. We may be arrested and fined for exceeding the number allowed for social groups – haha!
But seriously, in spite of all restrictions and inconveniences, we have much to celebrate and give thanks for. It would be too long to list (yes, even longer than Santa’s naughty list *grin*). As the worship song goes, we have more than 10,000 reasons to praise the Lord for He is so good and ever faithful.
Christmas celebrations may still be toned down this year but that does not stop us from remembering and celebrating the first coming of Jesus in our hearts. Amidst the doom and gloom, the Light of His coming and love shines even more brightly. At the same time, our present challenges remind us of the hope we have, one that points us toward the Day when Jesus will come again. How glorious that would be!
May the love, joy and peace of this Christmas season fill your hearts and homes as we together mark the birth of Jesus, the One who was sent to save us from our sins. This invitation and promise is freely available to all who would believe in Him and all He has done for you that you may receive from Him and all He has prepared for you, entirely by His grace.
From our family to yours… Happy, Merry, Blessed Christmas!
Henson & Serene with David, Sarah, Aaron, Esther, Ruth, Deborah Hope & Anna Joy
But what are traditional Christmas symbols? Well, it all depends who you talk to, isn’t it?
As reported in Orchard Road Light-up: Is it Christmas or Disneyland?, a certain Ms D’Silva “feels it would be more appropriate if the decorations used motifs associated with Yuletide cheer, such as Santa Claus, reindeer, colours like red, green, gold, or beautifully wrapped presents.” In other words, to many, Christmas is identified by Santa Claus and the accompanying paraphernalia.
Commenting from a marketing perspective, NUS Business School Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon feels that the Disney theme is perfectly fine – not an “overkill” – but “could be made tighter by associating each Disney character with a Christmas icon, say for example, a Disney princess with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer or Mickey Mouse carrying Christmas gifts.” Once again, we see how closely Christmas is tied to Santa (Rudolph is Santa’s lead reindeer and Christmas gifts are all courtesy of Santa and his company of elves).
As Christmas has largely become a secular affair celebrated by everyone of all faith orientations, religious or otherwise, the above responses are not surprising at all.
That said, it was appropriate that the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) should have issued a statement to express its disappointment, “saying that its exclusive focus on Disney characters buries the original meaning of the festival.” To this end, it “has no meaningful connection to Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.”
In response, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) explained that “the Orchard Road Christmas light-up was just ‘one of several components’ of the Christmas on a Great Street event, which also features pop-up booths along Orchard Road, including one run by Celebrate Christmas in Singapore, an associate member of NCCS.”
[Hmmm … reading between the lines, might the underlying message be, “Hey, you knew about this all along – that your Christian pop-up booth would be a part of the larger Disney-themed light-up. Why are you making a fuss now?” Taking it a little further … I can’t remember past light-ups in recent years but I believe there were no biblical symbols either. Why was that not an issue to be raised then?]
Whilst I appreciate that a statement has been made by the body that officially represents the Christian community in Singapore, my personal opinion is that Orchard Road is not the actual battleground for Christmas. If we want STB (and others) to regard and respect Christmas as Christian, I believe we must start by looking at how we Christians celebrate Christmas in our churches, events, families and homes.
Think about this: if we ourselves are sending mixed signals to the world, how can we expect others to protect the sanctity of the season for us?
Although we proclaim that Jesus is the reason for the season, we must also admit that many are all too ready to include Santa and other Christmas symbols in our celebrations. Like the responses above, these have become Christmas defaults. Like the stores and malls, the moment we get into the Christmas season (or Advent, in church-speak), churches somehow feel the need to create the Christmas spirit. Before we know it, Santa hats, snowflakes and candy canes begin to appear alongside nativity scenes. Hang on! If it’s about the birth of Jesus, why do we need Santa-ccesories? So, is it Jesus or Santa? Can we please make up our minds?
And we wonder why, of the more than 260 entries in the children’s art competition “What Christmas Means To Me” (recently organised by The Treasure Box), “only about 15% featured the birth of Jesus or something otherwise related to the story of Christmas (e.g. Wise Men, Angels, Shepherds etc). The rest were a cornucopia of everything and anything but – plenty of Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees, candy canes, presents, families eating Christmas food and so on.” It must be noted that many of these submissions were by children “from churches and faith-based kindergartens” (Why we should care about the commercialisation of Christmas by Elvin Foong). Then again, should we even be surprised by the children’s authentic expressions when Christian adults have no problem having these symbols in their supposedly Christian Christmas celebrations?
My point is simply this: how can we expect others to take us seriously if we are all mixed up ourselves? As far as STB and the world are concerned, the Church seems to be okay with everything. If Jesus and Santa can co-exist, then why not Mickey Mouse, Woody or Elsa? Perhaps, next year, Christians would be appeased if Mickey donned a Santa hat. Or have Kristoff of Frozen as the main character since his name sounds closest to Kris-mas and his best friend is a reindeer. (Who knows? Sven and Rudolf may even be related!) Or better still, feature Toy Story characters gathered around the manger.
Personally, whilst I am not thrilled with the commercialisation of Christmas, I am not too concerned what they put up along Orchard Road, whether Disney characters or Marvel superheroes. And even if the entire retail stretch should be decked out with baby Jesus, choirs of angels, shepherds and wise men on camels, does it necessarily mean we would have scored a victory? I think not.
If Christians sincerely desire to recover Christmas, we don’t start with the lights and decorations along Orchard Road. We must begin with ourselves.
– Stop hoping and depending on the world to help us declare our King. The values of the world will always run counter to the things of the kingdom (have we not learnt that already?). Why are we so happy just to have a pop-up booth as only one of the many features of the Great Christmas Village when Jesus should be the main and only attraction? (Well, better to be represented than not at all, I guess.) Why do we need Orchard Road when we have more than 700 churches around the island to accurately proclaim the true meaning of Christmas?
– If it is truly about Jesus, then stop embracing Santa iconology and other commercial Christmas paraphernalia. You can still go carolling or have your cell group Christmas parties without Santa hats and reindeer hairbands. Really! Stop sending mixed signals, compromising and confusing ourselves and others. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why our children are drawing Santas and reindeer when asked what Christmas means to them. They are just following our example.
– Dispense with this Christmas spirit thingy; there is no need to compete with the retail malls (or other churches)! For all we know, the so-called Christmas ‘spirit’ is none other than the spirit of mammon in disguise. For sure, the only spirit we need is the Holy Spirit and we are to be led by Him not just in December but every day of our lives.
– Be a generous and cheerful giver throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Fox News just reported that “this holiday season, $16B will be wasted on unwanted gifts“. I wonder if this includes the Christmas gift exchanges so many are forced (er, encouraged) to participate in, just for fun, in the spirit of giving? (There’s that ‘spirit’ again.) Not exactly good stewardship, is it?
– The birth of Jesus is most accurately declared and demonstrated when He is truly birthed in our hearts and through our lives. No point being Christmassy for a season only to be considered as hypocrites for the rest of the year. To this end, it is His death and resurrection that we must fully embrace on a daily basis; not just celebrate His birth once a year. (Did Jesus Ever Celebrate His Birthday?)
I assure you that I am no party-pooper, and I know how to have a great time celebrating Jesus. In fact, I do that all year around.
Lighten up. Go enjoy the Orchard Road light-up without reading too much into it. All said, that’s all it is – a light-up to draw tourists and rake in more retail dollars. In a few weeks, the lights will be all gone; but not your love, worship and testimony of the True Light, Jesus. The way your face lights up each time you mention and share Jesus will mean lots more than what Mickey and his friends can ever hope to achieve.
Here’s wishing one and all a very merry and blessed Christmas!
Perhaps, it’s a sign of growing older, and getting tired of all the commercial hype and hoopla of this season. Even in the Church, it’s sometimes difficult to discern if Jesus is really the One who is being celebrated.
If you’re feeling the same, I suppose we are not alone.
Perhaps, that explains why so many go to great lengths to feel Christmassy … put up the Christmas tree, string the lights, co-ordinate the red and green colours of Christmas, play the good ol’ Christmas favourites and carols, order the ham, hang up the stockings, don’t forget the presents, and to top it off … Santa hats and reindeer hair clips! Oh, and for good measure, we must have the manger scene, shepherds, the magi, and the bright and shiny star. After all, Jesus is the reason for the season.
All these have become Christmas staples that it is almost unthinkable if any of these were missing. Unfortunately, for many Christians, and church celebrations, this is also the default. Make no mistake! Jesus must be present … along with all the other symbols, whether biblical or not.
Unlike some, I am not canvassing for the abolition of Christmas celebrations. And yet, I am not exactly thrilled with how we have become so dependent on mythical and commercial props to make Christmas feel Christmassy. Somehow, although it is about Jesus, Jesus alone is not enough. Sure, we worship and adore Him, but for some strange reason, we still need Santa around … just to make it feel a little bit more Christmassy.
Although Jesus was not born on 25 December, I have no problems remembering His birth. My friend, Bill Muehlenberg, rightly points out that it is not the date of His birth that we are acknowledging, but the fact of His birth. When I recount the births of each of our children, other than my memories and their baby photos, I sure don’t need additional props to help generate any feelings at all. Similarly, with the birth of Jesus, all we require are biblical accounts of His birth, and our personal experience of when the Christ was truly birthed in us. Glorious!
I believe it’s perfectly fine not to feel Christmassy at all. In fact, there are many who feel terrible during this season because their pains and troubles are that much more magnified against the hype of the season. What’s worse, those who party too hard have been reported to suffer post-Christmas blues when they get back to work!
Christmas is not about our feelings, but our faith in the Christ – the One who was born that He may die to save us from our sins. Let’s dispense with the hype and the paraphernalia. Jesus IS enough! It is that straightforward, and as simple as A-B-C: Acknowledging, appreciating & announcing the Birth of Christ. Accurately. Biblically. Contextually. … hmmmm … good Christmas message material … this is where I must end this Christmas reflection before I complicate things further as a preacher-teacher. Haha!
From our little tribe to you and your loved ones, Blessed A-B-C!
Henson & Serene
with David, Sarah, Aaron, Esther, Ruth, Deborah Hope & Anna Joy
Amidst the fun, festivities and feasting, it is easy to mark the birth of baby Jesus and yet miss the significance of the coming Messiah. When Matthew recorded the birth account of Jesus, it was not only about a Saviour who would “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21), but it was also an introduction that the prophesied and long-awaited King has made His appearance in the person of Jesus. This may sound obvious but let us not presume that everyone readily receives the rule and reign of King Jesus.
Like Herod, we are threatened by the prospect of losing control of our lives, to give up our power and position, to truly live for Jesus. Like thereligious leaders, we are happy as long as the boat is not rocked, that we can fulfil our religious obligations. Never mind that prophecy was being fulfilled right under their very noses! Their knowledge of Scriptures affirmed it and yet they promptly returned to status quo, back to ministry as usual. Bethlehem was so near and yet, their hearts remained so far. Rather odd, for these were God’s people, supposedly crying for the Messiah to come.
Contrast this with themagi, Gentileswho went the distance. Their exposure to Scriptures moved them to an expedition with a Star. Having served in the courts of various kings and kingdoms, they knew that the One to come would be the real deal! They looked forward to the first Christmas not because of the presents or the party, but the Person of Jesus Christ. I wonder if we might have lost that hunger and desire for the true worship and service of the King?
As we look back to Jesus’ first coming, how many are ready for His second coming? Make no mistake – King Jesus is coming again! And when He comes, will He find Herods in rebellion, religious types playing church, or wise men and women who live circumspectly amidst evil days, truly kingdom subjects who are faithful in their kingdom assignments and ready to give account to their King?
This Christmas, don’t waste time over Starbucks’ marketing controversies, or get unduly upset that the words ‘Seasons Greetings’ are being preferred over ‘Christmas’. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the King, whatever the world says or however they try to remove Him. In my humble opinion, it is not whether Christ is mentioned in Christmas or not that matters. It is, however, of greater importance and significance that Christ be found ruling and reigning in your life.
Not a standard Christmas greeting, I must admit. Then again, the times we live in require an exhortation of a more serious tone. In the same way that birth pangs ushered in His first coming, the birth pangs that are being experienced around the world will also usher in the Messiah’s second appearance. As you enjoy the festivities of the season, our prayer is that Jesus the Christ be revealed afresh to you and your loved ones!
From our family to yours, have a blessed Christmas! Thank you for being a part of our journey through this wonderful year and into the next!
Henson & Serene
with David, Sarah, Aaron, Esther, Ruth, Deborah Hope & Anna Joy
I know this is a rather odd question but I beg your indulgence. It’s Christmas Day and I was reminded (again) that Jesus was not born on 25 December; and if one would engage in some clever detective work through the Scriptures, the astute student of the Word would know that it was sometime in September.
Sounds nice and revelatory, impressive even. But then, I can’t help but wonder, “You mean to say that the early church fathers and leaders did not know this at all?” Who did the calculations, who made the assumptions, and who approved 25 December? Oh right, the Bible as we know it today was not compiled yet. But were not the gospels in circulation already? And if Jesus’ birth was really in September, surely oral tradition would have attested to that. What’s more, could not Jesus’ family and relatives provide verification? Would not His disciples know their Master’s birthday, having spent three years with him? Surely, they must have cut at least one birthday cake with Him.
That prompted me to google, “How do Jews celebrate birthdays?” Since Jesus was a Jew, this would be the most natural place to start that I may have an idea of how important birthdays are to Jews and how they are celebrated.
The Encyclopedia Judaica could not be more blunt: “The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual.”
The tradition also holds that your birth alone is not as significant as the way you live your life. After all, King Solomon is thought to have said, “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
As a midrash explains, ‘When a person is born, it is not known what he will be like when grown and what his deeds will be whether righteous or wicked, good, or evil. When he dies, however, if he departs with a good name and leaves the world in peace, people should rejoice.” With that in mind, traditional communities are more likely to mark the anniversary of a revered leader’s death than his birth.
I stand guided and corrected (for I am no Jewish scholar) but if this is indeed accurate, then would it not be safe to assume that Jesus never celebrated His birthday in the way we are accustomed to in Western and secular influence? As I have learnt from Dr Michael Brown (askdrbrown.org), we need to see Jesus through Jewish lenses because Jesus was a Jew. We cannot and must not impose our own cultural biases on Him or the Scriptures (which is primarily a Jewish document).
Now, if Jesus did not celebrate His birthday, why do we make such a big hooha over it? Don’t get me wrong! I am thankful that God sent His Son, that Jesus was born (whichever month or day that was). Yet, consistent with Eccl 7:1 and the explanation of the midrash, it is the death of Jesus that is more significant than His birth. For if Jesus had not been obedient until the point of death, His birth – and I write this with utmost reverence and respect – would have meant much less. A wise man, a great teacher, a compassionate friend, a miracle worker He still would have been. But we would still be in our sins in dire need of the perfect Sacrifice and Saviour.
Perhaps that explains why I have been not been feeling very “Christmassy” of late. It could be a sign of age, or I’m just plain tired of all the hype and commercialism of the season. And no, I am not one of those who refuse to celebrate Christmas because it’s the wrong date or a pagan festival disguised in Christian garb. I just don’t think we should go overboard with this Christmas thingy.
But the Cross and death of Jesus Christ is totally different. I have always declared that every believer must have a fresh revelation of the Cross over and over again. Without His death, where would we be? Without His shed blood, our sins would only be covered but not washed away. Without His broken body, there would not have been a new and living way into the presence of God! Paul never wrote about Jesus’ birth but always gloried in His Cross and determined to preach Jesus and Him crucified. Yes, I would gladly mark and celebrate the death of Jesus Christ … more than His birth.
Thanks for reading this little Christmas reflection. For sure, Christmas, with all its traditions and inaccuracies, is here to stay; as will the fat man in the red suit and Christians who still insist on wearing his signature hat (Santa? No Santa?). And yes, I am still open and available to preach at Christmas services and outreaches.
I’m feeling a little schizophrenic, a little confused; and in wrestling with some of my own thoughts, a little legalistic too. And I don’t like feeling that way. I guess a few words on blogsville will help me air my thoughts and share the conundrum I am facing.
This being the Christmas season, the standard Christian phrases are making its rounds on Facebook and church posters. The two most popular, I surmise, are “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Without Christ, there is no Christmas”. And so, all Christians say a resounding “AMEN” to these statements. After all, when it comes to Jesus vs Santa, it is a no-brainer, right? Of course, Jesus wins! And to prove the point, a recent post from Matt Walsh “Who needs Santa when you’ve got Jesus?” garnered thousands of SHARES and LIKES.
If that is what we Christians are trying to tell the world, that Jesus, and not Santa, should be celebrated, why do we still see so many Santa-ccessories in churches and Christian Christmas parties? This is what I don’t get! Okay, at this point, I can really sense all the Pharisee-arrows pointed at me. But before you release those arrows, would you pause for a moment to think about it?
Here we are, shouting and declaring that no other name should be exalted above Jesus. And especially at Christmas, we are desperately (or at least that is the impression we give) trying to reclaim the season for Jesus. And as soon as we do that, we put on Santa hats to create that Christmassy feeling!? Duh? No?
Imagine guests who visit. They hear us singing about Jesus but see us donning red and white outfits. Mixed signals, no? On the one hand, we take our stand that we are not for Santa. But on the other hand, we dress like him. Confusing, no? Friends join us for Christmas services, and greeters and ushers with Santa hats welcome them. Odd, no? Did they make a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the North Pole Community Church? So, are we promoting Santa? Or no Santa?
Of course, this discussion (debate?) can go on. And it has, for the longest time. Others will then question the appropriateness of the Christmas tree, hollies and mistletoe. I guess we will spare Rudolf the hot seat since he already has enough attention with a red nose. On that note, if people can believe that reindeer fly, why do they find it so hard to believe in the virgin birth of the Christ-child? But I digress.
I guess these Christmas “symbols” are here to stay as are my feelings of schizophrenia. I don’t really want to be a spoil-sport as if I don’t know how to have some fun. And yet, I wonder how others will react when I politely decline anything Santa the same way I say ‘no’ to a glass of wine? But if I play along, would I have compromised my Lord and Master, Jesus? Sigh.
If nothing else, what this exercise has demonstrated is how inconsistent we are. We pick and choose what we want, and we justify and rationalise our actions. And conveniently, the festivities of the season provide a mask for our duality. More importantly, we must ask, are we like that too for the rest of the year? Ho, ho, ho?
When the Lord spoke the word “Abundance!” into my heart in January, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Well, the year has been nothing short of that … ABUNDANT … and still I know there is so much more the Lord has in store for us! This Christmas season, we are reminded of the birth and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in John 10:10, Jesus Himself declares that He came that we might have life to the very fullest! This is a promise that we have experienced through this year in so many interesting and meaningful ways.
Dear friends, we give thanks to the Lord for your friendship and partnership in the ministry. As we have personally experienced God’s abundant love, grace and blessings, our prayer for you is that you experience the same too! How? Simply through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour!
The Lim Tribe wishes you a very blessed Christmas and a wonderful new year in the Lord!
From Henson & Serene with David, Sarah, Aaron, Esther, Ruth, Deborah Hope & Anna Joy