Pastoral Perspectives

The Christmas Inn

               When it was time for our son Gabriel to go to Primary 1, we were very hopeful and confident that he would get into a local school. After all, I have served in one of the schools every now and then to help them out in their various ministries. Letters were sent out with recommendations and we waited. The stark reality of truth began to unravel one by one. We were informed that schools had no power to reserve seats for foreigners. Then we realized that we had to follow the protocol and register at nearby schools with vacancies. Enrolment dates for each phase and the number of open P1 seats per school are announced every year around June by the MOE.  The seats disappeared phase by phase—day by day—until most schools had no vacancies left by Phase 2B. When Phase 3 came along, only a few schools were left and we went to a nearly school, submitted all our documents and were told the outcome would be made known by November.

               While this was happening, it was time to renew our rental lease. We had no idea where our son would be placed and so we had to tell our landlord that we would not be in a position to renew until our son’s school was confirmed. Meanwhile, we had visitors everyday coming to see the house because the landlord needed new tenants by December. Soon, we were informed that we would need to move out by December because they had found new tenants.

               By early November, news spread among foreigners that many applicants were being rejected. We braced ourselves for the worst while waiting for the letter to arrive. Finally the letter came. The heading read “Rejection Letter”. When I read the last paragraph, I knew that there was no hope. It read, “No walk-ins or appeals will be entertained. The decision is final. Please consider private education or other alternatives.”

               Many people advised us to consider home-schooling. But having lived in Singapore long enough, we realized that it was not advisable for us to consider home schooling. So we started looking for International Schools. We narrowed down our search to one Christian school and we prayed that it would not be too far away. We found out that the school was just 3 bus stops away from where we were staying. The school said it would get back to us after our applications were reviewed. We had to wait again but soon were informed that there was a seat. Immediately we had to look for a new place to rent and everyone from housing agents to landlords thought we were crazy for not renewing the lease. How were we to know? The children were too young to understand all that was happening and we continued to assure them that God would see us through. Telling them was the easy part. Living it out in faith and trust was not easy. At home, everything was in a mess and yet at the church, preparations were underway for Christmas and every week I had to conduct the choir. We were singing songs like “Joy to the World!” and it was very tough for me. Finally on December 23, we moved house. The next day was full dress rehearsal at church and then it was Christmas – finally singing “Joy to the World!”

               This experience reminded me of the inconveniences that surrounded Jesus’ birth. At that time, Augustus Caesar, the emperor of the Roman Empire had sent a decree for a census to be taken, and many had to return to their hometowns to register (Luke 2:1-7). It must have been very hard for Mary and Joseph because they had to travel four day’s journey to Bethlehem. Mary (who was engaged by then) was heavily pregnant and Joseph had to take care of her and this special baby that was to be born. They arrived and went from inn to inn only to be turned away. I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for them. There was no room for Jesus at the inn. Finally they found a stable and they settled for it. In the midst of dust, animals and unpleasant surroundings, our Lord Jesus came to be born. He had no red carpets, no reporters, no attendants, and no luxury inns.  His kingdom, power and glory were truly of a different kind. God chose the downtrodden, the poor shepherds and animals to be his first witnesses.

               What a stark contrast to what we see today in the shopping malls, Orchard Road and even our homes. It is decked with ornaments and lights as we approach this festive season. One could ask what all these decorations are for and for whom. Phil 2:7-8 reminds us that Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. “He came not only to relate to us but ultimately to save us.”

               As I look back, I am thankful (although it was unpleasant) for the opportunity to experience what it feels like to have no guarantee for what lies ahead around Christmas. Yet it was nothing compared to how our Lord came into the world.

               While we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth (again), it is my prayer that we will not lose sight of why and how Jesus came in the first place. May Jesus continue to stay in our hearts and reign over us. May we not turn Him into a guest who needs to leave by New Year when decorations are taken down. Let us make room for him in our hearts now so that when He returns, he will say ‘there is room’ for us too.

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me; But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room For Thy holy nativity. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee.

When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing, At Thy coming to victory, Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room, There is room at My side for thee.” My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,  When Thou comest and callest for me. (Verse 1 & 5 of Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne by E.S Elliot)