Open your manger to ‘strangers’
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 24, 2018 - 12:00am

The common greeting I used to hear when watching cowboy/western movies was “Howdy Stranger?!” which was short for “How do you do stranger” or “how are you doing stranger.” It’s actually both a greeting and a statement of wonder why someone’s been a way for a while. Last week, I found myself engaging several friends who’ve been “strangers” for a while due to unfortunate circumstances that created a space in what was once a “tight friendship”. Some drifted away embarrassed or afraid that their personal or moral choices might be confronted by severe criticism or judgment, others simply took a plunge on the deep end of politics and bellied up in regret and humiliation.

The beauty of Christmas is it gives all of us an opportunity to knock at the door or open our doors to those who have become strangers in our lives. While most of us are busy shopping, cooking, and sleeping all afternoon, let’s not forget that Christmas was one humongous act of forgiveness from God, One huge act of setting aside the “I am right and you are wrong” statement and the ultimate gift of giving us the Christ so we can all have a fresh start. Quite frankly, Christmas is the biggest “excuse” for all of us to say sorry, or to forgive and move on.  It’s one season where we ought to stop dwelling on what people have done wrong to you or to others. There’s really no point reminding someone he or she has messed up, is a disappointment, or a perpetual pain generator. Any normal human being even those with only half a conscience know exactly who and what they are. You don’t have to remind them – they know.

So when one of my MIA friends or buddies Missing In Action sent a Christmas bundle to my house this year, I knew immediately that he was reaching out, making me know I was on his Christmas list. In fact it became sort of a trend for a week because after that, I got a box of pears from a former car buddy who got into the deep end of politics and bellied up battered, bruised mostly from his own errors in judgment. Then a third guy called “just to say Merry Christmas”. I did not hesitate to respond with a dinner invitation or a get together after the holidays. It was my way of saying the door is open, the friendships remain and they will not hear today’s litany from Bishop Beltran!

The first thing I realized is that there are situations when we simply have to “Let Go and let God.” Let God reel them in and take over the damage control. Yes I wanted to confront my misbehaving friends, yes I wanted to intervene and set my buddies straight and Yes, I looked for every opportunity but none came. I suppose because in God’s timing, my buddies needed God to sort them out in God’s time. God is not the Instant Microwave type of problem solver or Judge. If he were, there would be no human race to speak of or be part of. He gives all of us enough room, time and opportunity to recognize our blunders and be like the little kids who eventually say, “I’m sorry” to their parents or to God.  When my friends sent up their smoke signals or peace offerings, I realized that my role would be to help dust them off and invite them back to the playground and not to stand before the confessional or Bishop Beltran’s pulpit. There are certain situations when all we are suppose to do is pray for those we care for, which I now do every morning at 4:30 while doing my Yoga stretches in the dark. If you’ve tried to intervene or intercept a few times and failed, perhaps you’re meant to pray and not get in God’s way.

As I reflected on the restored friendships, my real take away was that we should always keep the Manger of our hearts open to those who have been “strangers” in our lives. Be like the compassionate Inn Keeper who simply wanted to help, expected nothing, received no recognition but perpetually remembered as someone who gave shelter to strangers. This reminds me of one of my favorite reminders from the Bible from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews Chapter 31: verses 1-4

“13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Sometimes, people we know are prisoners walking in their prison of sins or past mistake. This Christmas and in the coming New Year, let’s all open the manger of our hearts, set up a buffet and simply have a reunion and try with God’s grace to start all over again. That’s what God did for each of us so we can do the same for those we love and are temporarily lost. Merry Christ-mass.

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