The Wood of the Manger

[Institutional Pre-Christmas Mass (Is. 54:1-10; Ps 30:2-13; Lk 7:24-30)]

Christmas is a beautiful season. It is a season for family. A season for friends. A season for remembering people you have not remembered in a long time. It is a season filled with many warm things: twinkling Christmas lights, carolers on the streets, hot chocolate and churros, Simbanggabi, bibingka and salabat, and lovers cuddling each other in the chill of December winds. It is a season for love.

It is also a season for parties – parties galore in classrooms, in offices, in church halls, in clubhouses. There are parties for companies, parties for soldiers, children’s parties, clergy parties, and even teachers’ parties. We are no exception at ADDU. We too love our parties in season and out of season. And today we come together for our Christmas Party. We come together for games, prizes, food and great fellowship. But we also come together in worship.

We come together in the Mass, through which we conjoin ourselves to the highest form of worship, Jesus’ suffering death and resurrection, through which we are saved. We recall: if Christmas has any meaning beyond the shiny tinsel, the plastic holly, and the flickering lights of a recycled Christmas tree, that meaning is rooted in the suffering death and resurrection of the Lord.

The other day, many of you were present at the dialogue when we spoke about formation and the process of examining our spirituality, whatever it is, and of promoting Ignatian spirituality in our lives. I think, much of our spirituality shows in our attitude towards Christmas. What is it that impels us, drives us, makes us tick at Christmas? Is it the need to put the lechon, the fruit cake, and the fruit salad on the table? Is it the imperative to provide for my children the toy, the gadget, the celfon they long for? Is it the desire to reach out to the poor who consider the gift of a sando, a pair of rubber shoes, a pair of shorts, a pail of rice cause for celebration? Is it the hope, in the spirit of the Season, to finally bridge the communications gap between myself and my spouse or between myself and my estranged friend?

For Ignatius, it is a worthy exercise to contemplate the scene of the Nativity, and for us all, perhaps something urgently necessary. There are so many representations of the Nativity scene in myriad Belens of various sizes, shapes and styles that we often fail to get beyond the romantic play of shapes and colors to what they actually represent. St. Ignatius would invite us to use the various senses of our imagination to be part of the Nativity scene, to see the ass, the donkey, to smell the hay, to hear the angels’ singing, to see Joseph providing for Mary giving birth, to see Mary looking at her newborn Child, to gaze on this Child… To gaze on this Child, and hear what is being expressed, what is being said.

For it is clear. In Ignatian Spirituality, the contemplation of the Nativity Scene is intimately related to the mediation on the Incarnation, where the Trinity is looking on this world with its lights and shadows, its days and nights, men and women, “some white, some black, some at peace and some at war, some well, some sick, some coming into the world, some dying.…” With this view of humanity, our world, not just yesterday, but even today, the Trinity beholds “all nations in great blindness, going down to death and descending into hell” because of free choices made and never reversed, courses of action taken and never corrected, violations of persons committed and never repented, callousness and numbness to gentle breezes that whisper of the presence of the Holy. The Trinity beholds the people of the world, and instead of turning its back on them, allowing them to descend eternally to unending loneliness and isolation into themselves and themselves alone, the Trinity responds in speaking a Word of salvation, a Word of forgiveness, a Word of love, insisting from all eternity, “It is not good that man and women be alone,” insisting that neither man nor woman is isolated and abandoned, but loved, loved in God’s self emptying, loved in his being for them unto death, even death on the Cross. That Word is spoken in the Child in the Belen, who is not alone to be gazed at, but to be listened to, and not alone to be beheld, but to be held in our hands and in our hearts, touched and caressed, as he touches us in our souls.

I think this is certainly one reason why it may be unthinkable for us to celebrate our shared community at Christmas without the Mass. The wood of the manger on which the Babe was laid, is the wood of the altar on which the Lamb is offered, that is, the wood of the Cross on which the Lord suffered and died to win for us our life. It is wood from the Tree of Life, which is God’s primeval gift to us all. Remember what we sing on Good Friday, “Behold, behold the wood of the Cross on which is hung our Salvation. O come let us adore…” Today, contemplating him on the wood of the manger, we already sing, “O come let us adore him!”

Let us adore him, who did not come of his own accord, but came to revel the light, the goodness, and the Love of his Father. Let us adore him, who seeing us destroying ourselves through our coldness, our agnosticism, our indifference, did not turn his back on us, but spoke his Word of Love to each of us intimately in the Belen as Emmanuel. What he spoke in compassion, Isaiah paraphrases excellently, “…the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.

For us, as Advent preparation melts into Christmas joy, our parties, our Kris Kringle, our Monito/Monita exchanges may continue. But we may also wish to find appropriate response to this God to whom with the Psalmist we say: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may praise thee and not be silent” (Ps. 30).

Perhaps, as we share our camaraderie, our friendship, and our love with each other, what alone is appropriate is our heartfelt invitation: “O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!”


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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