Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Plenty Good Room

In Latin American countries, and particularly in Mexico, a series of special worship services prepare Christians for Christmas. The services are called Las Posadas, and they recall the Holy Family’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. For eight nights, at the homes of members who have agreed to host the service, and then again on Christmas Eve, at the church, a small band of worshipers come to the closed front door and says:

“Who will give lodging to these pilgrims
who are weary of traveling the roads?
We have come exhausted from Nazareth.
I am a carpenter, by the name of Joseph.
In the name of the heavens, I beg you for lodging,
my beloved wife can no longer travel.”

Inside the doors are other worshipers who respond:

“Although you tell us you are weary,
we do not give lodging to strangers.
We don’t care what your name is; let us sleep.
We are telling you that we will not let you enter.”

Then follows a sort of call and response where Scriptures are read and heard, reminding the worshipers that opening doors is a hallmark of our faith—whether to family and friends, or even to strangers and enemies. We open our doors in honor of the One against whom many doors were closed. At the end of Las Posadas, when the homes and church have been opened at last, there are prayers and carols and then, of course, refreshments.

Would to God that it worked in everyday life the way it does in that service: that with only a few words back and forth, a few reminders of what we believe and preach, all the doors could open—that we could find more room in the Inn of our homes and hearts, our churches and lives. Would to God that our work of hospitality proceeded so sweetly: that after a little prayer and preparation we could sing, have cookies and all would be as it should be. Sadly, Gospel-work is most often messier than that, has been from the start.

“The Word became flesh,” John says (which means there was pain and blood and tears), “and dwelt among us,” and where Christ’s Holy Flesh first dwelt was in the unlit darkness of a Bethlehem cave, the limb-numbing cold of a Bethlehem night, there among smelly animals and all the smelly things stabled animals do. It was not a pristine moment, though the Hallmark cards would like it to be, and there would be few pristine moments to come. At the end, too, there was pain and blood and tears, which is to say that if the Word taking on Mary’s flesh was an untidy business, the Gospel taking on our flesh is also an untidy business—but thanks be to God not an unprecedented one. Perhaps next year we will do Las Posadas, but with such experience as to make the call and response a kind of testimony, and the cookies taste really sweet.

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