We have just returned from our holiday in Penang two weeks back. We had planned for 4 days in Penang before taking a domestic flight to KL for the next 4 days.

Despite the big family logistics, all went well for our trip until the 4th day when we received news that MFA had just issued a travel advisory for all Singaporeans to cancel all unessential travel to KL in preparation for potential security/safety threats as a result of a convergence of about 300,000 Malaysians in the city centre for a political protest/rally.

After some research, we realised roads would be closed and our accommodation was barely 1km away from the rally site.

With thoughts of travelling into a potentially dangerous and hazardous situation the next day, with 5 young children and while expecting, it soon became clear that we were not prepared to take the risk. We decided to stay in Penang and change our plans.

Happy holidays busted?

The next few hours was a mad scramble of trying to book a returning flight home for 7 without much access to the internet and without OTP access to verify any legitimate credit card transaction. This led to several failed attempts to secure plane tickets at a favorable price.

As the hours ticked by, the calm dissolved into stress. We had checked with the hotel if we could extend a night but due to peak season traffic, they couldn’t accommodate us and it was hard to find room within our budget that fulfilled either of two criteria: a whole apartment with enough room or two interconnecting rooms that could accommodate 7. We called a few hotels to hear they were full. The other hotels, were selling their rooms at a high premium we couldn’t afford.

Hours turned to minutes and by 10pm we had barely resolved our air tickets nor accommodation for the next day. I remember my feelings then:

Frustration: Why did this have to happen, at this time, and to us? What a terrible holiday…

Loss: Our insurance policy stated that unless the rally turned violent and became a riot, we would not be able to claim anything much. We had lost a few thousand dollars in a few days.

Fatigue: Tiredness and stress had chaffed off every remaining bit of good humour, patience and calm over the situation.

Fear: The reality had sunk in; the next few hours were uncertain and we were not sure where we would lay our heads the next day.

As I lay in bed wrestling with all these negative thoughts, selfish emotions and praying to God for a solution, something within prompted me to consider the familiarity of my “circumstance” with the birth of Jesus.

A pregnant Mary and Joseph were in a rather familiar situation with us. I had only begun to realize how much more muted our condition was. As I closed my eyes to contemplate Mary’s journey to deliver Jesus’s birth, my heart became flooded with the grace to accept the things that were not within our control.

The Saving Journey of Faith

(Flickr: Jeff Weese, CC BY 2.0)

Like us, Mary and Joseph too had to prepare for long travel due to Ceasar Augustus’s decree for a census registration in the whole of the Roman world.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Unlike us, this couple had no luxury of modern travel comforts, and made arduous journey on a donkey or possibly on a caravan with other travelers, returning for the census for the safety and companionship of traveling in numbers.

We don’t know exactly what route they took—it was certain though that they had to climb up mountains and on foot through the Jordan River Valley. Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking. This must have been a scary journey for young, pregnant Mary.

Like us, she too, was rejected with no room to stay. The innkeeper, not knowing, could only tell the tired and hungry couple that they were sold out and offer her a hay stable for smooth delivery.

In our modern equivalent, even Airbnb had failed her; no clean linens or freshly laundered towels, possibly not much opportunity for a bath or to freshen up.

It was a lower than one-star treatment for the baby that was destined to bring Hope to the world. The “room” that welcomed the Son of Man and the Saviour King was but an animal stable; not a sanitized hospital nor a warm home. His first smells would have been of the rancid odours of a filthy stable. Anyone on Trip Advisor would have given it an awful review.

In exchange, however, the world was infiltrated with the heavenly aroma of Peace, Hope and Salvation.

God, despite being God, had not prepared an easy journey for His own son’s inauguration nor reserved special treatment with the best service and accommodation to lay his head.

2000 over years apart with seemingly similar plights within our own contexts; yet devastatingly stark was how our family without a doubt, had fell upon immeasurably more grace.

Because this couple has pressed in and pressed on, it enabled our fates to be lovingly exchanged. Love came down for us; travelled long and hard; delivered us from eternal peril through a divine exchange at a humble stable.

It was only the beginning of Jesus’s arduous journey of bringing those who would be willing, to everlasting joy and redemption.

Immanuel means God with us.

On the night Jesus was born, that had finally became a reality.

It suddenly became a reality to us on that stressful night and gave us the Grace and Help through beloved friends and family who came alongside to help us resolve the situation; making calls, booking tickets. Bonus: we managed to find a nice, new cozy accommodation that fit us all at 2am for the rest of our days in Penang!

It’s still a reality today. God is still with us- for every heart that’s willing to open and embrace His presence.

The Christmas spirit is synonymous with Giving. But the real Christmas gift didn’t come prettily packaged as we would have liked to imagine in the midst of our merry making.

God came down to be WITH us despite being on the sour end of a very sucky gift exchange. In His sorrow, we exchanged Joy, in His trouble, we gained Peace, in His brokenness, we became whole. In his death, we became forgiven and reconciled.

There was little revelry, feasting nor merry making on the night Jesus was born.

It was shrouded in the silent and holy love of the Father and the glorious promise of his infant Son.

Angelic voices penetrated the hearts of those who knew Him.

It was a miracle in the highest that is still unfolding today.

My prayer this Christmas is that many other Christmas miracles will continue to unravel; that many other hearts, including ours, prepare Him room and receive the miracle of Immanuel with us ❤️.