Las Posadas, a Journey to Bethlehem: Welcoming the Stranger
By Diana Sanchez-Bushong
This year, more than any other year I can remember, many commentators have mentioned what our world would have been like if the Holy family had been turned away when they fled to Egypt in fear of Herod’s terror campaign against newborn male children. The reason, of course, is the number of families seeking asylum in the United States as they flee terror in their countries. They, too, are looking for a safe place for their children. So, perhaps, this is a year to offer an Advent service that comes from the Latin American church, called Las Posadas. This service is built around the journey of Mary and Joseph as they seek lodging in Bethlehem as Mary is about to give birth. Las Posadas, which means lodging, originally comes from Spain, but was adopted and further developed in Mexico and became a service that was celebrated for nine nights leading up to Christmas Eve. Below is a description and an order of worship found in Fiesta Cristiana: Recursos para la Adoracion (Abingdon, 2003). Whether you decide to celebrate this family-friendly service over nine nights or just one night, it will surely enhance your church’s celebration of the nativity and perhaps remind us that every family is a holy family and every child is an innocent, Christ-like reflection of the Almighty God.
The “Posada” (literally “lodging”) has its roots in Spain, but it was fully developed in Mexico. The Aztecs held ceremonies honoring their god, Huitzilopochtli, on the days nearest Christmas time. Around the second half of the sixteenth century, the Augustine monks began to channel these celebrations toward Jesus, using biblical readings during the nine days before Christmas (December 16-24). The introduction of nine masses, the “Misas de Aguinaldo,” by Diego de Soria and approved by Pope Sexto V in 1586 added to the solemnity of the celebration.
The final touch was inspired by the mystic San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591), rector of Colegio de Baeza, in Spain. His idea consisted of carrying an image of the Virgin Mary, through the convent halls on Christmas Eve and knocking on some of the convent doors, asking for lodging. De la Cruz would place some monks behind the doors, where they would refuse entrance when asked for lodging. The procession continued as such, from door to door, and it was only as they reached the church, that the doors would open.
The traditional celebration of Las Posadas in our present day consists of a ceremonial procession that takes place December 16-24. It represents Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage toward Bethlehem, their search for shelter, and the refusal for such. Each night, during these nine nights, a group of people go in procession to several homes previously arranged for each particular night and, as they come to each door, they request entrance through song. Those inside respond, also through song, that there is no room. Finally, as they come to the last home chosen for that day, the doors are opened, the “pilgrims” enter, and there is singing and laughter, worship and the sharing of foods typical of the season.
On the last night, the Posada concludes in the church or in an appropriate place where a “piñata” may be part of the closing celebration. The piñata was used by the missionaries as a means of communication between them and the indigenous people. According to the missionaries, the piñata represented sin; the stick used to strike the piñata represented God’s power joined to human strength; the shifting rope holding the piñata represented the temptations and constant struggle with invisible spiritual enemies. The candies that fell from the piñata represented victory over evil and the many blessings from God. As the piñata was broken, sin was destroyed. This opened the way of salvation and the sharing in God’s mercy.
This service may be held in the sanctuary or in some other room in the church. A manger may be placed at the front. The first pew or row of chairs will be designated for “Mary and Joseph” and the persons who will accompany them. These persons will be standing at the back of the sanctuary during the first part of the service.
Small individual candles may be lit during the final hymn “Silent Night.” The congregation will continue singing while the lights are dimmed. The pastor, “Mary and Joseph,” and the persons accompanying them will exit the sanctuary, followed by the congregation. They will extinguish their candles in a designated place and proceed to the social hall for a time of fellowship, a piñata--if desired--and the sharing of refreshments or a meal.
From Fiesta Cristiana ©2003 Abingdon Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The order of service below is adapted from the service in Fiesta Cristiana.
The music is included for preview purposes. If you wish to use the music suggested here please go to www.musicservices.org for permission.
See Fiesta Cristiana, pages 192-197.
Order of Service
UMH=United Methodist Hymnal
MVPC= Mil Voces Para Celebrar
W&S= Worship and Song
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” UMH 196/"Ven, Jesús muy esperado" MVPC 82
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” UMH 203/"Dad Gloria al Ungido" MVPC 81
“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” UMH 229/"Niño santo y humilde" MVPC 116
CALL TO WORSHIP
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
The uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, an all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Draw near to us, O God, as the choir of angels drew near to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Help us to listen to your invitation to experience anew the joy of your Son’s birth. Open our minds that we may see his glory more fully, and thus serve more faithfully in his kingdom. In his name, we pray. Amen.
“All Earth Is Waiting” UMH 210/MVPC 78
Jeremiah 23:5; Luke 1:26-31, 34-35
“Joseph and Mary” and a few people accompanying them will stand at the back of the sanctuary or place of worship. These persons will be the people outside. The congregation will be the people inside. Sing the designated verses.
Isaiah 11:1-5; 35:1-4
(sing verses 5-6 as designated)
John 1:9-12; Luke 1:46-55
Here the congregation will sing the following, while the people standing at the back of the sanctuary or place of worship walk toward the front and take their seats. The congregation may face the “pilgrims” as they pass by, in a welcoming fashion.
Micah 5:2-4; Luke 2:8-18
CREED OF THE IMMIGRANT PEOPLE
Let us proclaim our faith as people of God:
We believe in one God, beginning and end of all life, creator of heaven and earth.
Whose people were created with dignity and upon whom the Holy Spirit spread unity, strength, justice and equality.
We believe in God who defends the right of widow, orphans and the stranger, who breaks down boarders, differences and arrogances.
Who walks with the laborers gathered on street corners, with domestic workers, with street vendors, with farmworkers and with refugees; a God with an anguished face because he lives among us as an undocumented person, unemployed, without a home, rejected and despised?
We believe and trust in the power of the same God in whom Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Isaiah, Mary, and Jesus of Nazareth trusted.
The same God who crossed the Red Sea with his people and today still crosses the boarders which separate us.
We believe in the God of the prophets, reformers, martyrs of the faith, and the unknown faithful of yesterday and today.
We proclaim that same God in whom Augustine, Teresa of Avila, and Martin Luther believed and trusted; the same God who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Arnulfo Romero, and Cesar Chavez. All these persons, guided by the same Spirit and the same cause, offered their lives, making way for a new order of solidarity.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who was rejected by his own,
But was willing to offer himself for the redemption of all; who shares the concreate reality of our daily lives and who, through his victory over death, gave us hope of new life.
We believe we should be faithful to God, the only One and Sovereign,
who guides the lives of rich and poor, young and old, women and men of all races, languages, beliefs and conditions; and who invites us to build a new reality: God’s kingdom of love, solidarity and eternal life. This is our faith and we proclaim it wherever we are, because “God goes with us.” Always march. Alleluia! Amen!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Pilgrim God, you who sought lodging in Bethlehem for your Son Jesus, continue to seek welcoming communities for the exiled and disinherited of the world.
Just as you open your heavens for those that seek by faith, open our hearts to make room and welcome those who need a place to rest from their burdens and to renew their lives.
Here the congregation offer other prayers and petitions repeating at the end of each petition: “O God, hear our prayer.”
“Emmanuel, Emmanuel” UMH 204/”Emanuel” MVPC 76
“Welcome to Our World” W&S 3067
And now, may the love of Jesus Christ shine in our hearts with the brightness of the star of Bethlehem. May that love inspire us to receive and to serve all those who come seeking God. May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you always. Amen.
RECESSIONAL SONG AND CANDLE LIGHTING
“Silent Night” UMH 239/"Noche de paz" MVPC 103
During the singing of “Silent Night,” the candles will be lit and will remain lit until all depart.
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