This past week, I was reading about a 400 year old Mexican Christmas tradition called, “Las Posadas.” This is a nine day event that remembers the hardships of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. It begins on December 15 and concludes on December 24 and is a reminder of Mary’s 9 months of pregnancy. On the first eight nights, the community gathers and walks together to a different house. The members of these houses have been notified in advance. The leaders of the pilgrimage are church members dressed as Mary and Joseph. And when they arrive, they knock on the door and ask for a place to stay given that Mary is pregnant. For eight nights in a row each house owner turns Mary and Joseph away. And then on the final night, the community gathers around Mary and Joseph one more time as they knock on the door.
This time, the owners welcome Mary and Joseph. The rest of the pilgrims are invited inside for a party. They celebrate with a piñata in the shape of the star that guided the wisemen. This final evening is this community’s way of celebrating the gift of hospitality. Mary and Joseph, in their hard circumstances, receive welcome.
I’ve never witnessed “Las Posadas”but I’m drawn to its message. The name means ‘the inn’ in Spanish. For one, I love the idea of the shared pilgrimage with all the characters getting to play a part. It helps us feel the drama. I’m also drawn to the way it helps pilgrims experience the rejection out of fear for their otherness.
More often that not, we neglect to show hospitality out of fear. We fear the stranger. We have word for that sort of fear. It’s xenophobia. We fear the people we don’t know or understand. Mary and Joseph experienced this rejection. This tradition seems to me an important one to embrace given the state of our world. We fear the stranger. We fear people who speak different languages, practice different faiths, ascribe to different political parties, identify with different sexual orientations, label themselves conservative and liberal. “Las Posadas” invites us to look beyond the fear and to experience the divine healing work of hospitality, the openness towards the stranger. The embrace of Mary and Joseph is the welcoming of Christ into one’s home and life.
Whether it’s the border crisis in our own country or that new neighbor who moved in across the street, we need the message of “Los Posadas” more than ever. Because the real tragedy is that we’re missing out on the sacredness and healing we find in welcoming people. The writer of Hebrews suggest that we get to entertain angels when we assume the risk of welcoming the stranger. Whoever welcomed Mary and Joseph those many years ago into their stable welcomed two peasants in a hard situation with little in the way of monetary gifts to repay them. But in that welcome, they entertained God without even knowing it.
When we embrace the other, the presence of God is ignited within our walls. As we hear the new stories and are opened to the new gifts the stranger will bring, both parties may find the healing they need as God works in and through them.
In our church, we’re on a kick to talk about hospitality. When we talk about hospitality, we’re not meaning Martha Stewart, although Martha could teach us a thing or two. It boils to a word that has come to have great power and meaning for our faith community. The word in the Greek language is “Philoxenia”. Philo means love and “xenia” means stranger. Philoxenia literally means to love the stranger. We find this word used six times in the New Testament. One of the more famous usages of this word is from Hebrews 13:3 when the writer encourages the people with these words:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).