What’s So Amazing About Christmas?

Hello again, dear courteous reader! It’s good to be able to write again after almost three months without a single post.

I hate to tell you this, but Christmas does already seem to fade away. The Christmas trees have been dismantled, the carols deleted from playlist. Where has the baby gone?

It is barely a month and the baby no longer occupies my mind. Heck, even other people stops talking about Christmas. Conversations are being dominated by dropping oil price, threatened Schengen, East Coast blizzard, Davos 2016, or other “current affairs”. The department store decors are changed, too. There’s no red-white-green theme anymore; it is all red and gold, in anticipation of the Chinese New Year. Christmas no longer sells.

So it makes me wonder, is this all what Christmas has to offer? Two weeks—maybe three, four at best—of festivities, of frantic shopping? Mistletoe and leftover food?

I look up on the Internet and there are numerous articles on the true meaning of Christmas. I read themselves and find them to be not so appealing. Sure, theologically speaking, Christmas is so much more than sales and carols. But somehow I don’t get the point of celebrating it. I mean, why celebrate the birth of a baby? Yes, the birth of a baby is a nice thing to behold, but what’s so amazing about it?

That birth should be celebrated because due to circumstances on that silent night, everybody can relate themselves to baby Jesus. Born in a manger to an almost-unknown couple, even those in the lowest rung of social ladder will feel touched by the relevancy. But surely this is not all about feel-good social divide? There must be more to this birth.

That birth should be celebrated because it was the birth of a Savior, the coming of a Redeemer to our temporal and imperfect world, they say. Well yes, but then Good Friday should be the one to be celebrated more than Christmas. THAT is the actual moment when we humans are redeemed. But we don’t celebrate Easter with the same enthusiasm as we do Christmas, do we? So what’s so amazing about Christmas?

Not to negate the points I have brought above, but I don’t think Christmas is that amazing. Those points hold true. Somehow I just don’t get it. No, I don’t.

Now, recollecting that moment we can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious; remembering the stable where for once in our lives everything became a You and nothing was an It. And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause, we look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son, we are tempted ever after to pray to the Father; “Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.” They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form that we do not expect, and certainly with a force more dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime there are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem from insignificance.

Wystan H. Auden, For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

But then I think again.

Imagine telling “Christmas is not so amazing” to the ones whose lives have been touched and changed by this man. Imagine telling it to blind Bartimaeus. To Jairus. To Lazarus. I imagine they would be quick to tell their story.

Tell it to the ones who witnessed the event themselves. To the shepherds. To the Magi. These men, whose names we don’t even know, have seen more than just an ordinary baby. They have seen angels and heavenly host and a star that stopped moving.

Try telling it to they who have been sinful but left it behind because this man came into their lives. Tell it to Zacchaeus. To the repenting criminal at Calvary. To Paul. In short, tell it to the men and women who will burst to cry at the very reading of the line “for unto us a child is born”.

And then there’s the disciples. Try asking these men, who have seen so many things done by Him, what Christmas is really about. Even imagining the answer myself sends shiver down my spine.

Then ask it to yourself. Not what theology has told you, no. Doctrines aside, answer it in relation to what He has done in your personal life, because apparently it is he/she whose life has been changed through the birth of Christ who will appreciate Christmas better.

I am none the wiser here, so I’ll be honest: my answer would be another cliché. I pray that tomorrow will bring less cliché and more splendor. I pray that the baby will be born and grow up and bring more miracle to this life, sooner rather than later.

Merry amazing Christmas, dear reader.

Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement, that I, a sinner, have peace with God, that makes the heart tender, kind and forgiving. Extend this to others seventy times seven.

John S. Piper

Advertisements

A Toast for Years to Come

It’s called winglet. The curved part on the tip of an airplane wing that reduces vortices so that aircrafts can be more efficient.

I used to see this kind of curvature on my little cousin’s paper airplane. I would laugh at him—poor him—whenever he made that final fold on the wing tip. “Why do you make that silly folding? It would have no effect at all on your airplane’s performance. HA HA HA!”

He would stick to his design and nervously threw the airplane into the sky. Of course it made no difference. Of course no noticeable effect would be observed given the shape of the wing and the very small surface area and the very low traveling speed. But aerodynamics aside, in this humble post I want to underline how much I was struck when I realized that more and more modern airplanes are using this kind of ‘silly folding’.

The date was August 17, 2015 and I was about to take-off on a Boeing 737 from Kualanamu International Airport after attending one of the best wedding in God’s green Earth. My seat was located right beside the wing and I can see the wing through my window. All of a sudden a curiosity was aroused when I saw the curved part of its tip. “Why is it curved?” I wondered. Surely it will result in more drag? Surely it will make the wing heavier? So what’s the point of having this silly upward-bent piece of aluminum?

The itching curiosity made me look it up on the Internet, albeit the impending departure of the aircraft. A stewardess had to remind me to switch my mobile phone off. I felt like yelling to her, “But this is curious, Miss!” Thank God I got the answer just before the airplane finished taxiing.

***

Ignorance is bliss, they say, and how blissfully ironic it was when I scoffed at my little cousins. Not that I was aerodynamically wrong, but this reminds me of my ignorance that it might be a good idea to apply that curve to a jumbo jet. With better attitude to my younger cousin I might learn something new and, better still, he could have been inspired to pursue an excellent career in aerospace engineering. Who knows? Inspiration can carry a man to places he doesn’t even dare dreaming about; he might be the next Igor Sikorsky, for Pete’s sake.

There are countless stories out there—I have even heard some from my friends—about how youngsters’ ideas are neglected just because those ideas come from “a cheeky young sod”. Okay, his idea may be a bit odd. An inexperienced man he may be, but surely it doesn’t hurt to listen to his idea?

It is good for a country to have a great older generation, but it is even better to have great youngsters. Great youngsters are not born, though. They are nurtured and taught by their seniors.

Imagine what would happen if 87 years ago there was no one from the older generation listening to what the youth wanted to say and helping them. Or worse, if the seniors scoffed and discouraged them instead. Probably there wouldn’t be an event called Sumpah Pemuda. But luckily, the older generation listened to their roaring voice and they rocked the country and 17 years later Indonesia entered a totally new phase in her life.

So herewith I would like to humbly re-declare it. With no disrespect to the event that took place 87 years ago, I reiterate the Pledge: that we are going to rock this country again. As young Garudas cannot fly without proper nurture from their parents, it is also the same with young men. So you old men, please guide us youngsters to fly.

And to you youngsters of Indonesia, let us toast for this emerging golden period. Let us nervously throw our paper airplane to the sky. Let us have a good time. Let us have a really, really, GOOD time!

Selamat hari Sumpah Pemuda. Mungkin 17 tahun lagi kita akan berpesta.

*For those of you who are ready to highlight the irony regarding my use of English in this post: sorry mate, I have my own consideration. I still use Bahasa Indonesia on my regular daily conversation. Better use your time to figure out a way to launch spaceships to Mars.

Seorang Kakak yang Baik Telah Menikah Dengan Baik

“Juk, kita udah kayak Secret Service belum?” tanyaku kepada adikku yang dari tadi tampak sibuk memperhatikan suatu keramaian di kejauhan.

“Tinggal kurang earpiece sama kacamata hitam aja, Bang.” jawabnya, dengan level kehebohan yang sama denganku. Sejak 30 menit yang lalu banyak orang lalu-lalang di kejauhan tersebut, sehingga wajarlah kalau kami yang berada di dalam mobil ini merasa seperti dua orang Secret Service yang sedang on duty mengamankan sebuah acara yang sangat penting. Sehingga wajarlah kalau kami merasa heboh.

Kakak kami menikah. Itulah penyebab kami merasa heboh di pagi hari tanggal 15 Agustus 2015. Mungkin belum pernah ada event sepenting ini dalam agenda keluarga Sitinjak dalam 5 tahun ke belakang, dan mungkin tidak juga dalam 1-2 tahun ke depan. Jadi kami berdua pun ‘merasa ditugasi’ untuk memastikan keseluruhan rangkaian acara berjalan dengan baik.

Setelah ikut serta dari awal sampai akhir pemberkatan, baru kali ini saya menyadari bahwa pernikahan itu ternyata sesakral itu. Entah apa yang diucapkan oleh sang pendeta dan entah apa yang dinyanyikan oleh grup paduan suara, tetapi semuanya itu terasa baik. Kata ‘baik’ saja sepertinya kurang tepat untuk menggambarkannya—mungkin lebih mengena kalau saya pinjam satu frase bahasa Inggris: divinely good.

Divinasi di pagi hari itu adalah divinasi yang kesakralannya sudah berkurang dalam peradaban modern—kata seorang kawan. Mungkin dia ada benarnya, jadi jangan heran kalau saya yang terombang-ambing dalam modernisme ini awalnya tidak merasakan sakralnya pemberkatan itu. Tanpa bermaksud ofensif, saya mengaku dosa bahwa saya pernah tidak yakin kalau pernikahan itu adalah pilihan yang rasional.

Iya lah, untuk apa menikah? Kalau hanya untuk kepuasan seksual, ada banyak alternatif yang lebih mudah dan murah. Kalau hanya untuk kebahagiaan, sepertinya cukup banyak contoh di luar sana yang menyangkal kebenaran argumen ini.

Tetapi pada pagi hari itu kasih lantang berbicara, mengklaim dirinya sebagai alasan utama untuk menikah. Bukan, bukan kasih antara manusia dengan manusia. Walaupun kakak saya mengasihi suaminya dan suaminya mengasihi dia, tapi bukan ini tipe kasih yang paling nyaring berbicara. Kasih yang paling lantang berbicara ialah kasih yang diistilahkan sebagai ‘Charity’ oleh C. S. Lewis, yaitu kasih Tuhan kepada ciptaan-Nya.

Nyaring terdengar melebihi bunyi lonceng di pagi itu bahwa Tuhan telah memanggil dan mempertemukan dan menyatukan dua jiwa ini karena ada tujuan baik yang ingin dicapai-Nya untuk ciptaan-Nya. Tujuan apa itu, saya tidak tahu sedikit pun. Saya—dan adik saya—hanya bisa berdoa di tengah hujan meteor Perseid bulan Agustus ini semoga tujuan itu terjadi, di Bumi seperti di Surga. Amin.

On Invisible Goodness

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living

Psalm 27:13, NIV

What does it mean? I used to interpret it this way: that one should wait for that goodness. That one day the goodness will arrive at last and one will be immersed in joy.

But yesterday another interpretation came to my mind: that maybe the goodness has always been there, lurking, waiting to ambush the man who is fortunate enough—by the grace of the good old Captain—to realize it. That one day his/her spiritual eyes will be opened and suddenly the beauty of that goodness appears with all of its splendour. And when that day come, one will be… surprised by joy. So surprised that at last his/her knees would have no choice but to tremble and his/her tongue confess.

Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all.

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Have You Ever Wanted to Be a Machine?

Everybody needs security. Yes, Maslow was right, at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs (apart from the physical needs) shall be ‘security’—or, in the infinitive form: ‘to be secure’.

It’s not just you or me, it’s universal. Everybody is afraid of something, and that is because of security.

That feeling when your mom or dad is terminally ill. That feeling when your role model turns out to be a poser. That feeling when you’re being bullied. That feeling when you can no longer stand the crowd. That feeling when the love of your life is leaving, on a jet plane. That feeling when your nice little hometown is being burned down. That feeling when everything you have worked for crumbles into ashes. That feeling when your little sister comes home crying after being raped. That feeling when your husband is put into penitentiary. That feeling when rainbows and meteors and stars fade away. That feeling when God forsakes your tiny existence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we can shut down all those feelings? Yes, to be a machine. How wonderful it is to be an invulnerable machine.

There would be no betrayal, no anxiety, no worry, no disappointment, and no pain. Seems nice, but I’ve been there, and it’s not nice at all. It’s like living alone in an endless winter night of Antarctica, only without the gale and the penguins. It’s so cold that you’d wish you could cancel your trip in the first place. It’s so… silent, that even a hurricane would have been wonderful. It’s so dark that you’d know you’re going to die.

So let us be honest here. We all want some of those bullets to penetrate our armor. We all want both the winter and the summer.

No, Maslow was wrong. At the very bottom of the pyramid shall be written ‘to exist’, or—I prefer this one—‘to be alive’.

Better a living dog than a dead lion.

On Penalty Shootout and the Underlying Garment of Faith (Part IV)

Okay, I think I owe you an apology, dear courteous readers, for I have just made yet another inaccurate title. There won’t be any reference to football this time. The reason why I use that particular title is because I like how this series of posts has been building up until now. This part will be a brief one, though, for I currently don’t have the luxury of having ample time to set off my mind in search of long expositions. Oh, thank you for that sigh of relief! *cynical smile

Just a few days ago a friend sent me a link. Led by the seemingly innocuous string of characters in the URL, I opened it. Well, it is innocuous, but somehow my mind was disturbed—nay, provoked—by the highly informative paragraphs. You can click it here, but the photographs are quite… umm how should I put it? Explicit?

Having read the article, one question instantly popped out: “How can a person love inanimate object?” Are they nuts? Why, there are millions of ‘animate’ objects out there!

Yap, that’s an important question, but a rather boring one. I am interested in another question and that question is not a trivial one, as you shall see soon. Now, the article mentioned that the man “can hear her, talk to her and “perceive her soul”, believing she speaks back.” Really? Seriously, though?

There’s no need for conducting a scientific experiment here. Of course that doll cannot speak—I doubt the manufacturer included a loudspeaker inside the doll—and I have the utmost belief that it doesn’t have a “soul”. So we are dealing with something delusional here. I hate to cast judgment but for the sake of my argument I would like to say that I pity that man for being delusional.

But after stoning that man I sensed a strange connection between two kinds of ‘being delusional’. I began to think that it somehow resembled the bizarre relationship between a man and his/her God. On my terrible yesteryear I used to think that the believers are deluded. I’m sorry if some of you are being offended, but please recognize the enticing validity of it. If you do think that that man, who really thinks that the doll speaks back and have a soul, is deluded, then it can be no surprise that some rationalists would have a go and say that believers in God are also deluded.

Now this is where I find myself a little bit tense. Somehow I am afraid that I am being delusional and I became angry to God that He would not give mankind one unmistakable scientific experiment that can settle the issue once and for all. “But then again,” thought I, “if scientific experiment is all that stands between truth and fallacy, whatever would happen to faith?” I would like to have a conclusive proof, but then again, I’m not God, aren’t I? Heck, even the ‘scientific method’ is not God. If He demands faith, so be it. Let all the uncertainty becomes lovely threads, seamlessly woven in this beautiful garment called faith.

Believe—the ultimate recipe