Growing up, my family never really celebrated Christmas. I remembered we use to put up a tree when I was small. But as we grew up, neither my sister nor myself felt the need to do any decoration. Mind you; we weren’t Christians. Though we were baptized as Catholics, we weren’t very religious.
When I became a parent, it started to dawn on me the importance of Christmas. Especially now, as Christians, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
This year it dawned on me that when the world celebrates Christmas, they do so without Jesus. How can I tell? Last month, when I took my kids to the malls in Singapore. We were admiring the decorations that were set up. Trees, stars, lights, balls, gifts, nutcrackers, Santa Claus. But no, Jesus. For me, this is so strange. The whole festivity is focused on presents and ‘fun.’
For me, the stores are putting up decoration and making things ‘festive’ is really a way for them to sell stuff. It is all marketing.
I also realized that if Wai Jia and me, as parents, don’t show our kids what Christmas is is all about, our kids will suck into what the world is promoting.
The question is how. At home, we have many books on the birth of Jesus. We read to our girls often. I quiz my little 3-year old, whose birthday is Christmas. In which, she yells with excitement, Jesus!
But I still feel something is lacking. It ain’t enough to drill or watch a video online or read a book. I need to do more.
It wasn’t when Wai Jia sent me a podcast from John Piper in early December that it moved me to action. The podcast was for Advent, and John Piper was challenging parents to bend over backward in creativity to share the joy of Christ with their kids.
This is hard. It is a lot easier if I do a Bible study on the birth of Jesus. But my kids, one three-year-old and the other not even two will not able to respond.
So I asked the Lord, what can I do?
The year before, I bought a Nativity art set. You paint it, and Wai Jia had a lot of fun with the kids. But they stopped selling those.
It was reflecting on that Nativity set; I challenged myself. Why don’t we build our own Nativity set?
When it comes to arts and crafts, that’s my wife’s department. I am not an artistic person. But I know my kids need to experience Jesus’ birth in a way they had never done before.
Ok, let’s build it. The first challenge is to build the stable.
I really feel like God inspired me. Together with my children, we went to the store and bought popsicle sticks.
Every morning, I sat down with my three-year-old to build the set during my turn to look after the kiddies. We started building one wall, then another, then another. We then made the roof.
Then we made baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary out of paper and toilet rolls.
What I didn’t realize is the joy I had watching my child so involved in the process. We had a great time as father and daughter.
As I reflected on this little project for Christmas, I felt God spoke to me in so many ways.
First, we mistakenly think God expects us to do something grand for Him a lot of times. Like go and do missions or work on a big production for Him. Then off we go, hurrying and slaving ourselves away in the ministry. We go off with our own plans without consulting the Lord. Or worst, we pray and ask God to bless our dreams when we should be first obedient to His plans. Then we give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.
I could have quickly built the nativity myself without my daughter. Or I could have told her to do it herself. Or I could spend the money to buy a fancy Nativity set. But that will miss the point, right? The fact is the relationship. We do it together.
God desires the same for us. We are to yoke with Him. We are in a relationship with the living Lord, and He worked through us (through the Holy Spirit). We are to seek Him and His Righteousness first. We surrender our desire, even doing His Work, and let Him be the one that leads us. I believe, only then, we are doing God’s will because it comes from God’s heart.
Second, as parents, it is my first and foremost duty to share the joy of Christ with my children. This is the responsibility of the parent. It is not the church’s responsibility. In the Old Testament, God told the parents to instruct their children the ways of God. It wasn’t some school or some program they are to prescribe. The program is parenting within the home environment. This still rings true today.
In short, if I am not excited for Christ, I don’t expect my children to do so no matter how many programs I pump my kids to go through or how much money I’ve spent. I have to walk the talk.
Lastly, this little activity taught me that I need to do whatever it takes to share Christ with my kids. There is no excuse to say, “oh, I can’t do this art or some silly activity because it is not in me.”
As parents, it is ok to act silly, play, and do something we are not accustomed to sharing the joy of Christ with our kids. We have to. Our kids are already bombarded with so many ‘fun’ and shallow things the world offers. I wholeheartedly believe we have to bend over backward in creativity to teach our children.
Mind you; I never thought I would be making crafts with my kids as a father. I can say, it ain’t my responsiblity. Let my wife do it. But my kids will miss out so much. As a teacher, my job ain’t to expect my students to come to my level. I have to go down to the level of my students. My students, in this case, is a three-year-old. She ain’t interested in Bible study. But she loves crafts. So I need to learn to go down to her level.
At this instant of thought, I realize, ‘Oh, now I understand what it means to lay down my life for another (John ..). Of course, Jesus was speaking in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ. But I believe this applies to my kiddies too. It is easy to talk about laying down our lives. It is another to do it. When it comes to discipling my kids, I know I need to get my hands dirty.
Earlier this year, when I was still struggling to be a stay-at-home dad, I told the Lord, what about my dignity. I realized that doesn’t matter anymore. There are things bigger at stake than my ‘ pride. It is the salvation of my children. It is my desire for them to know the Love of the Lord. For that, I am willing to do anything.
Just as Jesus is willing to do anything to save us by dying on the cross, what I am laying down for my children is so little.
After Christmas, I spoke with my wife that we would have our own tradition to celebrate Christmas in our house. In this house, Santa Claus is not real because he ain’t that important. In this house, we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. In this house, the birth of Jesus is a joyful reminder of what He did for us.
As parents, we will continue to build our own Nativity set with our kids for as long as possible. I am already looking to next Christmas as I know my children will grow old enough to tell me what they want to build.