Advent snuck up on me this year. Not to make excuses, but this has been a big, busy year – leaving Singapore, moving to Sydney, learning my new job – and things are still happening. Plus a summer-themed Christmas is quite different from a Christmas where carols start playing in the malls in September, or fake snowflakes light up Orchard Road on a designated first Friday of the season. And so I write this first devotion late; I’m sorry.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)
Last Friday in the city/country of my birth, protesters wore black and took to the streets and the Rizal National Monument (also known as Luneta) to rightfully declare that a dead, deposed dictator does not deserve a hero’s burial. The Heroes’ Cemetery is not the final resting place for a man who is no hero.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus… and the things of earth will go strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace. The injustice of Marcos’ thief-in-the-night burial burns at me, even as I am miles away and even conceptually no longer a resident of the Philippines. I wanted to be among my equally enraged friends, raging in Luneta, sweat sticking my black clothes to my skin. Instead here I am, thinking of the irony of a man who lifted himself up through the labour and literally the blood of his own people and continues to do so even in death, versus a King who humbled Himself so that He did not even have a proper place to be born in nor rest. And I am called to focus on the King, who is sovereign, and who says – even if He himself had no place to rest during His first Advent – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
Psalm 32:7 NIV
 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Psalm 5:11 NIV
 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
What do the Brexit and Trump’s victory have in common? This isn’t, I think, a joke. Both elections were won because of a fear (okay, vitriol) of refugees. After all, what are immigrants and asylum-seekers if not refugees? The former may simply be economic ones, whilst the latter are political (often, war). We are all looking for a safe place, for protection.
How ironic that the Second candle of Advent stands for Peace, when that is the thing that refugees seek. But.
Today in church Rev. Peter Greenwood spoke from Isaiah 11:1-10, the prophecy that speaks about Jesus Christ as the shoot from the stump of Jesse, and on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. What I found interesting and very timely in that message was: shoot = a banner raised (remember that Sunday School song, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine, His banner over me is love”?). Citizens have a banner (flag) over them, indicating the sovereign that protects them and to which they are subject to. Refugees seek that banner. And we who seek refuge from the Prince of Peace, the Christ of Advent, are promised His care and protection.
John 14:27 NIV
 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 16:20,22,24 NIV
“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy… Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
Why are Christmas family reunions difficult for so many? When I was looking up the definition of ‘reconciliation’ the word ‘reunion’ came up. And ‘restoration’, too.
It’s ironic, but maybe it’s God’s perfect timing, that I’d marked this Sunday’s Advent reflection to be about reconciliation (liturgically, the third Sunday is Joy Sunday)… Even as many families prepare for their reunions amidst simmering resentments or distasteful memories; and even as I navigate the break-up of a relationship. It is very hard right now to think of the joyfulness of this season. And so I look to this promise:
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten… You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:25-27 NIV)
“Be still, my soul, thy Jesus can repay from His own fullness all He takes away.” The Christ of Christmas, who promises a joy that is complete in Him, will restore our broken hearts and our broken relationships.
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”
Yesterday I saw inside Sydney Town Hall for the first time. It was the first time that I watched Handel’s Messiah in its entirety, too (I’ve always just seen the Christmas cut when I lived in Manila). This has been a year of many firsts for me, moving to a new country after a decade in my adopted one. I watched Messiah with a friend who is fast becoming family to me, and we discussed after dinner about choosing your family when you are away from your biological one.
What redemptive grace that is, especially at Christmas, when God allows you to find a new definition for family because you can’t be with the one you were born into. You get to create new traditions together, and navigate life together, and you know that it’s because you chose and were chosen.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart… ”