December 13, 2019

Learning from Las Posadas

During this Advent season, are you the one knocking or the one invited to express God’s love and mercy and open the door?

My daughter and I took a road trip one summer and because I wanted some scheduling freedom we didn’t book campsites ahead of time. Given just how many campgrounds there are I naively thought we would have no problem securing a site each night. How wrong my assumptions were and as place after place said they were full I felt my anxiety rising.

My rising anxiety must have been nothing compared to the emotions felt by Mary and Joseph upon arriving in Bethlehem. Can you imagine being them, bone-tired, very pregnant, alone, frightened? Can you imagine coming to the end of your journey not sure where you would stay?

The Mexican tradition of Las Posadas tries to give expression to that reality. Las Posadas occurs December 16-24; nine nights, one night for each month of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night the community gathers outside and goes from place to place asking to be let in only to be rejected again and again. As they travel they sing and read scripture. Finally, someone (pre-arranged) will let the group in and they will have some refreshments. The ninth night ends with a service at the church.

Our Western celebration of Advent and Christmas likes to focus on the baby with his adoring parents, shepherds, and animals. We tend to focus on the arrival, not the journey; but in doing so we miss a significant aspect of the story.

Biblical and historical scholars remind us that nowhere in scripture is there anything to support the idea that Mary and Joseph knocked on multiple doors. In fact, given the Middle Eastern culture and better translations of the original scripture Mary and Joseph were actually invited into not a stable but rather the family’s living space with the family’s most precious possessions; a few animals. Still, while Las Posadas may not be historically accurate it does give expression to Advent’s yearning and the reality that as Christians we are people on a journey.

Journeys can be exciting as we see, smell, feel, and do new things. Journeys are also tiring as we miss the familiar; that which is comfortable. Journeys often are fear-filled as we encounter the unexpected, take wrong turns, and find things simply don’t turn out as planned. Some people journey by choice, others out of necessity. When you are vulnerable and without resources, journeys are particularly perilous. But it is often in those difficult times that we see God’s unexpected grace at work; we see God’s provisions of mercy. A door opens.

Sometimes in a Las Posadas you find yourself as part of the group that is journeying from place to place looking for somewhere to call home. Other times you are the one who hears the knocking on the door and are faced with the choice of letting the travelers in or turning them away. This advent I find myself wondering: am I the one knocking or am I the one invited to express God’s love and mercy and open the door? What about you?



Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.