As  many of our business leaders will be spending a great deal more of their time at home during this trying time of the pandemic, let  me suggest how they can respond to the wish of Christ, the very center of Christmas, that we be like little children when He said that “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  I am referring to the tradition in many Christian families to  craft a Christmas “belen” or Nativity Scene in one corner of the home, with all the family  members giving a hand.  I remember how as children, we enjoyed the collective effort to mount the belen, whether simple or sophisticated, in preparation for Christmas.  Since many children cannot enjoy whatever Nativity scenes will still be mounted in public parks and commercial centers (they are not allowed to go these places during this Christmas season), we should maximize the opportunity and pleasure for them to participate actively in building the family belen which should be the centre of our Christmas celebrations.  Whether you are a parent or a grandparent of small children, you can involve them with the whole family in constructing, improving,  and maintaining for the whole Christmas season a belen in some central place of your home.

Let Pope Francis help you envision what the belen should look like.  In an Apostolic Letter he wrote just a few months before the start of the global pandemic, he endorsed the enchanting image of the Christmas creche, so dear to the Christian people.  To the Pope, the depiction of the birth of Jesus is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.  The belen can be considered as a living Gospel rising up from the pages of Sacred Scripture.  In fact, in some cities of the world like in Barcelona and Rome, the Nativity Scene can be a major object of tourism and is actually maintained the whole year through for visitors from all over the world to behold.  They can be massive structures complete with depictions of mountains, rivers, water falls, towns, forests and all types of human figures from the traditional shepherds, the Three Kings and whole communities of town folks engaged in all types of activities whether farming, fishing, dancing, etc. 

As we build and later on gaze lovingly at the belen for the whole  Christmas season, let us join Pope Francis in his own reflections on the various elements of the nativity scene.  First, he points to the background of a sky wrapped in the darkness and silence of the night. To him, this symbolizes all those times in our lives when we experienced the darkness of night, yet even then God does not abandon us.  He is always there to answer our crucial questions about the meaning of life.  Who am I? Where do I come from?  Why was I born at this time of history?  Why do I love?  Why do I suffer?  Why will I die?  God became man in order to answer these questions for us.  His closeness brings light where there is darkness, and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadows of suffering.  If we are willing to listen, we will know why God allowed this pandemic to disturb and even claim lives.

Children who participate in the building of the belen enjoy moving the various figures from one place to another.   They are especially fascinated with the role of the shepherds who are among the few human beings (together with  many animals) in a Nativity scene. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see things that have happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15) so the shepherd tell one another after they heard the angels sing.  The Pope reflects on the beautiful lesson that emerges from these simple words coming from the simple shepherds.  Unlike some other people (especially business leaders), busy about many things, the shepherds are the first to see the most essential thing of all:  the gift of salvation.  It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation.  The shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus, by setting out to meet Him with love, gratitude and awe.

The next reflection is especially meaningful for business leaders, those who are the ones responsible for growing the wealth of a nation.  In every Nativity scene, one will always find human figures depicting, not only the poor shepherds, but also all types of impoverished people, beggars, the handicapped, farmers, common workers and others who know only the wealth of the heart.  The Pope says that they too have every right to draw near to the Infant Jesus:  no one can ever dare to evict them or send them away from a crib oftentimes so makeshift that the poor seem entirely at home.  The presence of the poor and the lowly in the belen  is a  good reminder that God became man for the sake of those who feel most in need of His love, and who ask Him to draw near to them.  Here again, the Pope dwells on his favorite theme:  the preferential option for the poor that Christ showed and which, as followers of Christ, we must also manifest.  From the manger, Jesus proclaims, in a meek yet powerful way, the need for sharing with the poor as the path to a more human and fraternal world in which no one is excluded or marginalized.

Jesus was born in poverty and led a simple life to teach us to recognize what is essential, and to act accordingly.  The nativity scene clearly teaches that we cannot let ourselves be fooled by wealth and fleeting promises of happiness.   I hope that as we have more time to reflect in front of the belen during this Christmas, one of our main New Year’s resolutions for 2021 is do whatever we can to help the most hapless victims of the pandemic and the natural calamities that hit our country in 2020. At least in the short run, the main focus of people in business should not be how to grow the GDP but how to address the very unequal distribution of income and wealth that has been made even worse in this year of the pandemic.

One of the happy results of the many lockdowns required in combatting the spread of the virus was the more frequent times many families were able to say the Holy Rosary together.  During the entire Christmas season, when there is the Nativity scene displayed in a prominent place of the household, the family rosary can be prayed in front of it.  Next to Jesus, the most prominent figure in the Belen is Mary, the Mother of God.  The Pope refers to Mary as a mother who contemplates her Child and shows  Him to every visitor. Mary responded in complete obedience to the message of the angel who asked her to become the Mother of God.  In her, we see the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only to herself, but invites everyone to obey His work and to put it into practice.  In front of the belen, the third Joyful mystery will be especially meaningful to us.

As I started this article, let me refer again to the role of business leaders as parents or grandparents of children who have to be brought up in the faith of Christ.  As the Pope reminisces, standing before the Christmas creche, we are reminded of the time when we were children eagerly waiting to set it up.  These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us.  At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and grandchildren. More than ever before, as we have had the opportunity to spend much more time with our family as a result of the lockdowns, we should consider how the simple (or sophisticated) belen is part of the precious yet demanding process of passing on  the faith. Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us and to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with Him.  We are His children, thanks to that Child who is the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary.  It is in this realization that we are children of God and of our Mother Mary that we find true happiness. 

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Source: Manila Bulletin (