Thursday, December 28, 2006

Here's the Peace of Christmas

Question 1:

If there is so much violence and terror in the world today, then where is the peace of Christmas you Christians are so fond of talking about, you must be asking?

The answer is found in another oft-quoted verse in the Old Testament written by the prophet Isaiah about 700 years before, prophesying the birth of Christ.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

So the ‘peace of Christmas’ is also the Christ of Christmas.

Question 2:

But with so much violence and bloodshed in the world today, what kind of peace are you talking about?

This is what the Prince of Peace said shortly before he left this earth:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. …… These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Where is the Peace of Christmas?

We frequently find these comforting words on Christmas cards:

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Two thousand years after those words were spoken, there’s anything but peace on this earth. In the very place where Jesus was born there is fighting and tension and hatred all around. And it’s not just the Jews fighting the Arabs. Muslims are also fighting with Muslims.

And nearer home, in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, the government has to deploy more than 18,000 troops to protect churches and other religious institutions in Jakarta alone.

Fox News reports:

Tens of thousands of police officers will guard churches across the world's most populous Muslim country over the Christmas
period, amid concerns that Al Qaeda-linked militants could carry out attacks, police said Monday.

The regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for annual strikes in Indonesia since 2000, when a series of coordinated bombings killed 19 people on Christmas Eve. An attack on a Christian market last New Year's Eve killed seven.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned of a "serious security threat to Americans and other westerners in Indonesia," saying targets could include hotels, malls, businesses, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools or public events.

"Terrorists in Indonesia have most often directed attacks at specific buildings or locations. The possibility exists that individual Americans could be targeted for kidnapping or assault," it said in a statement.

More than 18,000 police will be posted at thousands of churches and religious sites in the capital, Jakarta, said police spokesman Col. Ketut Untung Yoga.

Meanwhile, the Australian foreign minister also warned Australians yesterday of possible terrorist attacks being planned around Christmas in Indonesia.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Where’s the Christ in Christmas?

I read something rather sad in yesterday’s Straits Times’ Mind Your Body section. In a short article titled, Finding the Christ in Christmas, Shefali Srinivas wrote:

“As a student in Los Angelis six years ago, I remember seeing a homeless man holding up a large sign near the entrance to a shopping mall. The sign asked a simple question: “Where’s the Christ in Christmas?” I wondered what he was referring to. Was it the Christmas spirit slowly drowning amid the ringing of cash registers? Or was it how Christmas had become less about giving and more about consuming?

She (?) went on to lament the over-commercialisation of Christmas and the “loss of old traditions and familial connections” as well as the prevalence of rude inconsiderate behaviour in our shopping centres. She ended her article by saying she wished someone like her former moral education teacher would give Singaporean adults lessons in grace.

I feel sad because, I could tell that she still had not learnt the answer to the question she encountered 6 years ago, “Where’s the Christ in Christmas?”

Actually, if she really wanted to know the answer, all she had to do was to delve a little deeper into this common verse found in many Christmas cards:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

The full description of this incident is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8 to 20.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them

The answer to the question, “Where’s the Christ in Christmas?” is very simple. He is totally forgotten. Today the world celebrates Christmas with parties, feasting and drinking and shopping and Santa Claus etc. Nobody remembers the Christ in Christmas.

And if you want to put back the Christ in Christmas, you simply have to do what the shepherds did on that first Christmas two thousand years ago. Accept with joy the gift of the person of Jesus Christ (aka Emmanuel, meaning God with us). And of course, don’t forget to express your gratitude to the giver by simply thanking and praising Him.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Now Then Come and Talk Like That

My fellow Singaporeans will have no difficulty recognizing that the title of this article is written in Singlish, our own peculiar brand of English.

I am referring to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan’s recent remarks about Iraq. As his term of office draws to a close, he seems to have found a certain passion about Iraq. For example, last week, he said the situation in Iraq is “almost civil war”. This week, speaking in an interview with BBC, he said,

“I think, given the level of violence, the level of killing and bitterness and the way that forces are arranged against each other. A few years ago, when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war. This is much worse.”

In fact he admitted that the situation in Iraq is worse than it was before the war;

“If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison, that they had a dictator (Sadam Hussein) who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, "Am I going to see my child again?" And the Iraqi government has not been able to bring the violence under control.”

BBC: Why didn't you stand up in the UN Security Council and say in 2003: "This war is illegal without a Security Council resolution"?

Kofi Annan: I think, if you go back to the records, you will discover that before the war I said that for the US and its allies to go to war without Security Council approval would not be in conformity with the Charter.

BBC: Which is a very sort of UN bureaucratic thing, rather than saying "it's illegal" which would have much more impact. And your aides say to me: "This was Kofi Annan, the cautious man, not wanting to confront."

Kofi Annan: It's easy to - what do the Americans call it? - "Saturday morning quarter-backing", or "armchair critic". I mean, it was one of those situations where even before a shot had been fired, you had millions in the street and it didn't make a difference.

I find it quite disgraceful that this man, who held one of the most influential positions in the world only found the courage to speak out against what he obviously felt to be wrong towards the end of this tenure; and after thousands of Iraqis and US soldiers have lost their lives.

Why didn’t he speak out strongly against the US invasion of Iraq at the time when it was clear to the whole world that Bush intended to attack Iraq regardless of whether or not she had any weapons of mass destruction? The French and the Germans did. Why didn’t you at least lend your support to their objections instead of cowering in the face of the bullying tactics of George W. Bush? If you felt powerless stop the man, shouldn’t you at least step down in protest.

And if any of you think that the next UN chief will do better, may I suggest that you not raise your hopes too high. In his own words, Mr Ban Ki-moon sees himself as a "harmoniser, balancer, mediator" ….

In other words, another toothless tiger who won’t stand a chance against the man who is worse than a fierce tiger.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

So Many Outreached Hands

In Singapore, practically everyday, everywhere you will encounter an outreached hand asking for your donations. Let’s start with your home. Every week I receive letters from charities like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Christian Outreach To the Handicapped, Association of Mouth And Foot Painting Artists' just to name a few. Some come to your doorstep, and others, right into your living room via the television. And when you step out of the house, they accost you at MRT stations and kopitiams.

After a while, you develop compassion fatigue and you learn to say 'no'; especially when you worry that the organisation you donate to will turn out to be another NKF. Recently, I received a request to donate to the National University of Singapore. Like many other Singaporeans I refused. I don’t know. Looking at all the beautiful stadiums and concert halls they have, I just don’t think they need my dollar more than the many small, lesser known charities.

But there's one particular outreached hand (maybe I should say fist) that you cannot say no to. I am talking about our government of course. Shortly, they intend to increase the GST or Goods and Services Tax by 2% to 7%. Apparently our government needs the money to fund various programmes to help the aged and the needy. But they are so kind. They promise not to increase fees for government services for one year. Does that mean that yearly increases are a norm? Anyway, after the one year they can always make up for it can’t they?
Sometimes, I wonder. If we are as well off as everybody seems to believe, how come there are so many poor and needy people in this little country?