A Christmas Word

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Perched on his booster seat at the breakfast table, our one-year-old son reached out his hand and exclaimed, “Aga! Aga! Aga!” My wife Daphne and I looked at each other, checking if the other understood this new word from our firstborn. We both drew a blank.

Aga!” repeated Adi, his almond eyes pleading to be understood. So the newbie parents proceeded to point to various objects on the table — the bottle of catsup, my mug of coffee, the oven toaster, the box of table napkin. Each object, upon presentation to the toddler, was met with vigorous head-shaking. Until we handed Adi his sippy cup. He grabbed it, smiled, and took a generous gulp. Apparently, in toddler Adi speak, aga was water. (Don’t ask me how or why — I have no idea.) Thirst quenched, Adi let out a satisfied “Ahhhh!” (At least that one didn’t need any deciphering.)

This anecdote, one of many on this fun journey with our eager babbler, is helping me ponder anew the wonder and mystery of Christmas. I realize that in the humble birth of Jesus, the Almighty had chosen to utter a strange word — “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word has baffled, even offended, many people whose ears are unaccustomed to its otherworldly sound. God-man born of a virgin? Royalty delivered among animals? Holiness that laughs and dines with scum? Divinity that dies helpless upon a wooden cross? Omnipotence that mocks the grave? Gibberish.

And yet this same Word has given unspeakable meaning to the lives of many who have heard Him and — “by grace, through faith” — understood and believed. For them the line from the well-loved Christmas hymn rings true and deeply personal: “he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Jesus, the Word, is the defining person of history. What we make of this manger-born babe — who would grow up to live a sinless life completely synced with the Father; who would lavish love upon outcasts, much to the scorn of many “good” and religious people; and who would claim to be the long-awaited Messiah, sacrificing His own life as a ransom for His enemies and then vanquishing death — will determine the trajectory of our eternity.

Many throughout history think they understand the Word, ascribing meanings to Him that fall short of His true nature. Mere man. Good spiritual teacher. Remarkable prophet. Only one of many ways to heaven. Maybe, just maybe, like our little Adi when presented with a bottle of catsup or an oven toaster as aga, the Almighty is shaking his head at these misunderstandings. “Who do you say I am?” Jesus had once asked those closest to him.

This Word, whose coming had long been prophesied by ancient Hebrew texts, is alive and still being uttered today. His Spirit speaks and draws people to listen, believe, and be saved. I look at my toddler and pray that one day he would understand and believe in the Word. I pray too that the ways by which Daphne and I celebrate this season every year will prepare Adi to encounter the Christ of Christmas—yes, the Living Aga.

‘Dada’

 

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“Be a father. It lives up to the hype.”
—Charlie to Will in The Newsroom

It’s a quarter past nine in the evening as I write this. Exactly one year ago at this hour, I was in the labor room with Daphne, helping her with the breathing and relaxation techniques we had picked up from birth class. In about five and a half hours, at 2:40AM, our first child would be born—3.9 kg, 52.5 cm, and really angry. (I’m sure there is a medical term for all that wonderful screaming.) He, Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan or, fondly, Adi, would in turn birth the mother and the father in Daphne and me, new roles that we have been learning to embrace this past year with much joy and trembling, lots of prayers, and never enough sleep.

Since becoming a father, I have been asked by friends to describe how I felt that moment in the delivery room when I first saw Adi. For sure, it wasn’t what I had imagined or seen in the movies. I didn’t feel all chest-thumping fatherly. Or weepy. Or light-headed (thankfully). I felt relieved, grateful to God for answering prayers, mine and other people’s, for the safety of my wife and baby. And then I felt overwhelmed. Then tired and hungry at the same time. I looked at my brave wife on the delivery table—her lips pale and her eyes droopy—and I felt a little worried, but I also felt very proud. I raised my iPhone to take a video of my son—my son!—and I felt panicky, afraid my capture wouldn’t do the moment justice. Somewhere in all that was joy. Oh, joy!—she was merrily skipping around the other feelings as though reminding them of a choreography she had long rehearsed with them.

What they say is true: nothing fully prepares a man for fatherhood.

I remember walking down the hospital after my wife and our newborn son had been wheeled into the recovery room. A lullaby was playing. Later I would learn that it was the  hospital’s ritual to play a lullaby in the delivery wing each time a baby was born. (Nice touch, St Luke’s.) At some point I did think that I was just imagining the lullaby. After all, I was sleepless and hungry—physical realities that my consciousness was just then starting to register as the adrenaline rush began to subside.

Through these past twelve months of getting to know and caring for Adi, Daphne and I have grown so much. Our hearts have swollen to near-bursting. Adi has quickened a part of us that we didn’t know was there. He draws from us a kind of love that surprises even us, one we didn’t realize we could give. More and more, as we love him, our son in turn reveals to us the father-heart of God. And we learn to love and trust Him more, also to love other people more. We pray that Adi will love and trust Jesus too.

In wisdom and grace, Abba has chosen me to be Adi’s Dada. That is one mystery I will spend a lifetime embracing. Tomorrow, we start counting years.

Happy first birthday, Adi-buddy.