Heaven’s Jewel in a dingy manger: a Christmas reflection from home

An unlikely Christmas, for once spent back home. Unforeseen circumstances had interfered with our travel plans, but ‘tis remain a season to be glad, to be in thanksgiving. For being home this Christmas, served as a ringing reminder, that Christmas had first made its course in history, when Heaven’s Jewel came to a dingy manger, so that the Almighty may bring His children Home.

It had been a family tradition to spend Christmas abroad. Always with family, but never in our home town. We could expect it. The colder winter air, the more festive decorations and events that would surround Western countries as compared to our tropical city.

This year we had planned to be back in the States at year end, especially as I had my (way overdue) graduation walk. I graduated in 2020, smack in the middle of the pandemic, and so my ceremony got postponed 2 years later.

Yet a few days prior to me and my husband’s flight, an unexpected phone call from my sister led us all to cancel our trip altogether. My granddad had just been hospitalized.

Though family insisted that I still flew, at least for my ceremony, my heart was torn. My husband, then, initiated that we cancelled our long-awaited trip: for he knew if we had left, I would only be restless all throughout.

when God chose a dingy manger instead of a lavish Throne

And though the human in me was sad to have missed my graduation ceremony–I had previously told my husband, how I couldn’t wait for the provost to call out my name, “Jessica Herliani Tanoesoedibjo, Master of Arts in Special Education, cum laude.” It was hard-earned, and my prideful heart longed for the recognition.

Yet upon the eve of Christmas, as I recalled again the essence of the season, I was instead reminded, that God Himself had chosen to give up all lavishness, to come and be born in a manger: to the service of mankind.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

As I gave up my US trip, and sat by my granddad’s hospital bedside, I was reminded of my Lord, who so willingly gave up so much more, to be Emmanuel, “God with us”–God, by our side.

How could I complain? How could I grumble? If my Maker willingly laid His life down to serve me: shall I now not do the same?

Hence, my heart’s reflection at Christmastime;

For the Lord did more
Than spend the Night
Coddled in that manger

We ask, “what for?”
If with His might
He sure may afford Better

Yet Himself He’d pour
And ev’n, took delight
In the service of another

So now the offer:
Of a similar plight,
That we may love each other.

when God came for the sick

And surely, by my granddad’s sickbed, the Lord continued to fill me with thankfulness. To be reminded of the kindnesses of God, in letting me partake of His life of service, and for glimpses of His Hand throughout the journey. For in the midst of a bleak diagnosis, we could continue to cling unto Hope.

But above all, witnessing my granddad battle sickness at Christmastime also brought me to ponder these words of Christ:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17 ESV

For the purpose of the arrival of that Blessed Child upon Christmas had been made clear. God comes to the sick, the weak, the helpless, the needy.

All my life I had never seen my granddad in such a state. He was always healthy, self-sufficient, and strong. I recall this time last year, as I took my three grandparents out for the day–I never needed to worry about him (except for the fact that sometimes he likes to wander off). In fact, he’d help me with the logistics of traveling with elderlies, like getting the wheelchair in and out of the trunk of my car. (Mind you, wheelchairs are heavy!)

But through these weeks, too, never have I seen him cry as much. The only time I had ever saw him cry was at my wedding. Yet in those weeks of hospitalization, multiple times I could not bear the sight of his tears.

Perhaps some were shed out of fear, but others, I knew, were out of thankfulness of love received. For in his weakness, love was poured by our extended family. We took days off work, cancelled our plans, and stayed by his side.

And what a powerful force love is. That, in the words of a song I’ve heard, “makes a grown man cry.

in sickness and in health

As a newlywed, these days also made me treasure the words of our vows upon the altar: “in sickness and in health.

For sickness often crouches stealthily, and corners us at times most unexpected. Sickness renders an otherwise strong person powerless. And in the face of sickness, we can no longer treat marriage as a “fair game”, where both parties give and take equally.

In fact, marriage should never be about fairness. As though both sides must pour 50:50. This is easy to say. But even as my husband and I had only begin embarking on this new season of marriage, daily, we often find ourselves learning and relearning what it means to lay down our lives for the other.

And this will look different in different seasons, between different personalities (hence why we must never compare our relationship with others), with our various capacities and tendencies and roles. Oh, how it will take a lifetime for the both of us to grow in! (More on that on another blog post!)

To give ourselves away seems like a hard ask. But, how much of a comfort is it truly, to love and be loved, “in sickness and in health”.

For such is the beauty of marriage as how God had intended it to be: for everything He asks of us, is truly for our own benefit.

living in a sick world

But even if we do not find ourselves amidst a distressing physical illness, we remain to be faced with a much prevailing problem. We live in a broken world. Humanity as we know, is sick.

Most of us, I hope, would have lived through a childhood where we saw the world as our own oysters. We would have been taught that we live in a world full of possibilities and wonder. Such a childhood would have brewed a certain sense of wide-eyed optimism. I was such a child.

But years would only dim such hopefulness. As we grow up and witness evil before our very eyes, we begin to rethink whether things will ever get better. Whether our efforts at making a change, a “positive impact” is built on sinking sand.

So what becomes our consolation, then? If not the words of our Lord:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33 ESV)

my sick heart and my Physician

For truly often times when we find ourselves driven to repair our sick world, we fail to look to our own frailty. And that becomes our greatest fault: to live without integrity, where our ploughing and our inner plight are at disconnect–where we become hypocrites as we try to mend a sick world, when we ourselves need mending.

This year on Christmas-day, let it be known and noted, for my own benefit, that I found myself coming to church on Sunday with an unsettled heart. A minor inconvenience in the morning brewed a prolonged irritation in my heart, and I did not come before the Lord worshipful. I sat through “confession of sin” truly wanting to be repentant, but knowing that the state of my heart remained to be bothered by petty, worldly worries.

My granddad had just come home from the hospital two days prior, on Friday. And he was then under home care. Yet truthfully, that morning, his state had been the lesser of my worries.

What had upset me was that my diamond earring had fell into the sink drain just before we were about to leave for church that morning, and I had been unable to retrieve it. In my mind was the constant thought of losing such a precious and expensive item.

But thank God for His gentle rebuke, for He knew I needed to be at church that Christmas morning. I needed the reminder yet again of why Christ would come to us at all.

For is Jesus not Heaven’s Most Precious One? But He would lay down all majesty and lavishness to take on flesh in a cold and dingy manger. An unworthy place for Heaven’s Jewel, but where He would make His first bed.

And there I was that Sunday morning, for once spending Christmas at my home church, after having sacrificed my “lavish” Year End travels to serve my sick granddad. But as I prided in that sacrifice, I failed to realize how reluctant my heart was to detach itself from the lavishness of this world, that the mere possibility of losing a diamond earring would rob me of my worship.

My heart, too, was sick, and I needed help. This was the harder pill to swallow.

But is that not what Christ had come to do?

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

(Luke 5:32 ESV)

And that Christmas morning, I repented. “Lord, help me. I can’t worship You rightly if You don’t fix my heart.” And surely, we can always count on His faithfulness.

For even as I came to church with my un-worshipful heart and a divided mind, the Lord would kindly grant me with the will to, still, come to Him true (Phil. 2:13).

Heaven’s Jewel for this dirty dust

Later that day, I would come home with a calmed soul that was no longer anxious to retrieve my worldly treasure. But praise be to God, that retrieve my diamond earring, I could. The plumber had to dismantle parts of the pipes, and himself reach into the dirty drain, to finally reveal a still, shiny, diamond earring.

Today as I write this, I laugh at the Lord’s humor in it all. That my precious jewelry had to fall through a dark and dirty pipe on the Day we would celebrate Heaven’s Jewel coming to a dark and dingy world.

And how much of an effort, and worrisome thought, did I put to retrieve my piece of jewelry! Shall I now not notice the lengths by which God Himself had come to retrieve me? Heaven’s Jewel for this dirty dust? This sinner? What waywardness! What oddity!

But what great love.

And what a powerful force love is. For as how our family’s love had nursed my granddad back to better days thus far, God’s love, I believe, would do so much more.

For Heaven’s Jewel had loved this dirty dust, from death into life, and life everlasting.

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