During the past 20 years, I have been blessed to be invited to various Posada celebrations. Las Posadas is a celebration prevalent in Mexico and parts of Latin America. For nine nights prior to Christmas, the community gathers to sing a specific song which traces Maria and Jose’s (Mary and Joseph’s) journey to find a place in the inn.
My experience was that children always loved to be the “innkeepers” because it was a fun excuse to be “mean” and not allow the “peregrinos” or “travelers” to come inside. We would often dress up in costumes adding to the fun. After the town is gathered, a song goes back and forth between the travelers and the innkeepers who reject Maria and Jose repeatedly. The innkeepers are sure Maria and Jose are up to no good and have no right to be here. Finally, the innkeepers recognize Maria and Jose as the holy family and let them in. A party ensues with more singing, food and usually a piñata.
In my previous congregation, we also would then enter into the sanctuary and pray for the ways that so many people in our world are looking for “posada” or “shelter." Though this service is not necessarily a part of the traditional practice, it became an essential part of the service for our worshipping community. The list of prayers shared would range from people literally looking for work and shelter to individuals looking for compassion instead of bullying, relief from mental illness, a safe return home from war, relief from domestic violence and more.
I always found the prayer requests that poured out to be so powerful and a good reminder that so many people in our world are always looking for “posada.” Unlike many Christmas celebrations, the poignancy of worship time during the Posada that time did not avoid talking about pain and suffering but, rather, brought people together to name the hurt and suffering in the world. We would then also read the Christmas story and remind ourselves that Jesus didn’t avoid all that pain, but, rather, entered right into it to be a light for us through it.
This year, many of us will have very different Christmases from years past. Some traditions may be altered or not happen at all. But our world will still be full of people looking for shelter, peace and comfort. Our world will still be full of people who feel like they are “shut out and left on the outside” looking at the joy, hope and fellowship found in churches and our families.
With so much being impossible, unsafe or unrealistic for so many of us, I can’t think of a better time for us to focus on how we can create “posada” for the world around us. Maybe this year we start a new tradition. Instead of being primarily focused on what presents are under the Christmas tree or in the stockings, we spend some time thinking, praying and reflecting about how we can be instruments of “posada” or welcome for people in our community and throughout the world in the upcoming year. Maybe it’s through financial gifts. Maybe it’s through calling our neighbors who are isolated and alone. Maybe it’s through advocating for awareness about people who are struggling and incorporating that reality into the life of our congregations. Maybe it’s through thinking about who is left out of our churches and how we can be intentional about welcoming them into our spaces.
I think if we all truly did this, we would find that this was not the year we all “muddled through” but, rather, the year we finally got it right. If we focused on the true meaning of “posada,” our hearts, homes and churches might be changed so that we truly celebrate the meaning of Christmas love entering our daily lives all year long.
If you are someone who feels like you are searching for “posada” this year, may you find your eyes fixed on the light and hope of Christ, the true meaning of Christmas, as you continue your journey to find a place of love and belonging.
The Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor at First Lutheran Church in Worthington.