Going back to the manger is the grace of Christmas | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Last weekend, I posted on Instagram the picture of the Infant Jesus peacefully sleeping, lying on a cross and holding one of his three nails. A friend asked what he was holding. A nail, I said. She messaged back: “It was all about mission from the start.”


As we celebrate Christmas, I invite you to reflect on this point: “Our life is all about mission.”


One of the graces of Christmas is our tradition of going back to the manger. There are images that come with the manger, but the most central is the “child wrapped in swaddling clothes.”


Let us add to this image the lying on the cross and the holding of the nails. These best represent the “magic” or the grace of Christmas.


Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, often talked about God’s dream for us. He would say this most passionately when he talked about the Mass as an expression of God’s dream for humanity. He was very emphatic about the Mass as a memorial, a privileged moment of remembering God’s dream for us.


In the language and magic of dreams, the Infant in the Manger lying on a cross, his Cross, with the three nails that will “seal the deal,” is the fulfillment of God’s dream for us. Christmas is a graced moment to go home to this dream and remember our own dreams to live a life of meaning and mission.


The past weekend was a special moment of preparation for me for today’s feast, a special moment for me to go back home to the manger and renew my own dream to live a life of mission.


By some “strange coincidence”—there are no accidents in God’s plan—I touched base with three persons with whom I have journeyed as a teacher. As I have shared with you in previous articles, teaching is my first and great love; teaching is my mission to live out in our world a part of God’s love and compassion.


Saturday, a young man in his early 30s met with me to consult, as he is preparing to return home with his family and begin to live out his passion and mission.


This young man first saw me 16 years ago when I was basic education director in Ateneo de Manila. He was then in first year high school, and even then he was talking about his passion and mission.


Renewed passion


He tried to live this out, and as he settled down and started his own family, the necessities and realities of life set in.


After several years of working in the finance industry, he realized and admitted to himself that the meaning of his life lies in doing what God wants him to do and in living out his passion.


Discussing this with his wife, they are coming home to start an agri-business, and at the same time he will pursue his passion as a career or business.


He is coming home to his dreams. Now begins his living out of his mission with a renewed passion, humbled and made wiser.


Then right after my meeting with this young man, I read a text message from another student, the first student I ever mentored back in 1980: “I am already excited for 2015.”


He has been sharing with me his dream and passion to work in government to serve our people. He took up law, worked with one of the government’s cabinet secretaries, and earned his masters from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.


He served in the cabinet of one of our Presidents before joining the private sector.


After serving in different postings in Asia and Europe with two big multinational companies for 15 years, he is now preparing to come home to finally live out his mission and passion.


We will work on a project to help develop in our people a better stakeholder’s mentality or sense of citizenship.


Early next year he is coming home, to the home of his dream, the dream to serve our people and country which he discovered 34 years ago.


As people who have talked to him these past months had told me, “He is very inspiring. His passion and hopes for our country are so inspiring.”


Sunday night, I was talking to one of the persons I had closely journeyed with since 2013. We had planned to start him off this past year on his mission, which he had sensed even as a young student.


However, the convoluted path of his journey, which had taken him through many twists and turns, came into play again. This was his cross through the years, but the call to mission and the desire to offer himself to God and his mission never left him.


In the course of our conversation, I recalled with him the best talks we had the past year, conversations that were graced moments of him getting in touch with his dream and deep desire to offer his life to God in mission.


During these moments he would turn childlike, with an air of peace and innocence.


Birthright gifts


Parker Palmer writes that we come into this world with birthright gifts, but we spend the first half of our life giving up these gifts.


We come in whole and integrated, but disintegrate as we go through life meeting expectations and demands, experiencing traumas and disappointments, becoming wounded and jaded.


Palmer poses two questions. One, “Is the life that I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?” And two, “So how do we get back?”


Going back to the manger is a return to the childlike innocence of our life. As I had mentioned a few weeks back, children are religion. In their innocence and unadulterated trust and joy, they are religion.


Going back to the manger is going back to the start of the story, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s dream for us. He comes as a “child wrapped in swaddling clothes” lying on the cross and holding the nails. This is his birthright gift, his mission to be the savior of the world.


This is the grace and magic of Christmas. We renew in the manger our own birthright gifts, the integrity that lies only in our passion for mission—a mission and passion that are God-given and offered back to God.


May our Christmas be merry in rediscovering the grace and magic of Christmas as we go home, go back to the manger.