Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Las Posadas - 12/16/2009

Today's Mental Image:

No Room In This Inn


Las Posadas (Spanish for "the inns") is a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain beginning December 16 and ending December 24. It is a yearly tradition for many Catholic Mexicans and for some other Latin Americans and symbolizes the trials which Mary and Joseph endured before finding a place to stay where Jesus could be born, based on the passage in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke (2:1-7).

Typically, each family in a neighborhood will schedule a night for the Posada to be held at their home, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th. Every home has a nativity scene and the hosts of the Posada act as the innkeepers. The neighborhood children and adults are the pilgrims (peregrinos), who have to request lodging by going house to house singing a traditional song about the pilgrims. All the pilgrims carry small lit candles in their hands, and four people carry small statues of Joseph leading a donkey, on which Mary is riding. The head of the procession will have a candle inside a paper lamp shade.
At each house, the resident responds by refusing lodging (also in song), until the weary travelers reach the designated site for the party, where Mary and Joseph are finally recognized and allowed to enter. Once the "innkeepers" let them in, the group of guests come into the home and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray (typically, the Rosary).  At the end of the long journey, there will be Christmas carols (villancicos), children will break open piñatas by striking these colorful papier-maché objects with bats while blindfolded to obtain candy hidden inside, and there will be a feast.

Often we are critical of the religious traditions of Mexican Catholics.  The blend between Catholicism and former pagan customs often remains thin.  Of course it is also  that the blend of our own American non-Catholic religious customs and former pagan celebrations also remains thin.  The historical reasons for these blends usually relate to celebrating Christian values and beliefs in ways that will be easily understood and assimitated by newly converted people groups. 
So what values can we glean from Las Posadas?  First, Christianity represents a community of the faithful, not isolated "Lone Ranger" christians.  Communities, as demonstated in the Old Testament, place high priority on worshipping and celebrating together.  Imagine the dedication (and disruption) eight nights of community celebration requires.  But, imagine also, the depth of friendship, the increased level of intimacy, which grows for such intensive, religious centered time together.  We Americans seldom experience this depth and intensity. 

Second, again as encouraged by the Old Testament, the level of religious training and intensive participation which passes to the children of believers by the scheduled, celebrative, hands on nature of Las Posadas.  No grouch God here.  No judgmental uncaring Jesus who is better than us - even if he is divine.  Las Posadas has all the depth and richness of the Jewish Passover for fulfilling Deuteronomy 6:3-9.

Third, as originally intended by the development of the Advent season, Las Posadas reminds us that the birth of Christ was not all joy and glory!  Before he was even born he suffered in the same ways as do we.  He became one of us, from his human conception not just at birth.  His coming again calls us to "render unto Cesaer that which is Ceraers' and unto God that which is God's.  And beyond that Las Posadas reminds us of our Christian duty to welcome the poor, the stranger, the alien in our midst as if they were our own family - a duty much forgotten and bridled against today.  After all scripture warns us that in refusing the poor, the stranger, the alien, the imprisoned, the oppressed, we may be rejecting a special visitation of The Christ among us.  Many have entertained angels unaware.  Many more have rejected a visit of Christ unaware.
May this look at Las Posadas, this look at the values of Christ, challenge us to enrich our lives as well, especially at this time of year.

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