The Christmas season is full of all sorts of opportunities for worship. The thinking behind this series is to provide a thread that could run through some of the special services of this time of year. Some of the services included here have their own history or structure. We don’t want to undo those traditions or force interpretations that are inappropriate to the meaning of the day. At the same time, we want to encourage communities of faith to embrace some of these traditions, especially if they haven’t been a part of your local practice. Las Posadas comes to us from the Hispanic tradition, and Watchnight is significant in the African American tradition. By leaning into these observances, you are expressing solidarity with the wonderful diversity of the body of Christ.
While each of these services might stand on its own and provide worshipers with a unique experience of the meaning of the Christmas season, we believe there can also be a thread that connects them together. “God of the Dark and the Light” is our way of acknowledging God’s presence in every human experience and emotion. That seems like a no-brainer, yet for many people, darkness speaks of the absence of God. We often see light as equivalent to God’s presence, God’s grace and glory, and dark as evidence of sin or abandonment. There are, of course, biblical precedents for this dualistic thinking, but we must be wary of what applications might be made. All sorts of implications of this thinking can lead us astray. We talk of dark moods and dark thoughts. Some might conclude, therefore, that light is better than dark, which could mean, for example, that light-skinned people are good and darker-skinned people are bad This is just the most egregious example of how this dualism could influence people’s thinking. We cannot recommend more highly the wonderful work of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark (Harper Collins, 2015) as a counter to the traditional dualism.
What the Christmas season tells us is that God does some of God’s best work in the dark. We could even argue that in terms of faith, walking in the darkness requires a more complete trust in the guidance of the Spirit, as we can no longer lean on our own resources as easily. So, whether we are walking with the holy family looking for a place to rest and give birth or standing on the brink of a new year full of both danger and promise and over which we have little control, we are called to embrace the God who inhabits the dark just as potently as the God inhabits the light.
NOTE: Las Posadas begins on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24. For the purposes of this worship series, we have set it on December 19.
Las Posadas is not really a preaching service, so there aren’t any preaching notes this time. What we provide in this space is the encouragement to embrace this gift that comes from the Hispanic tradition. This too might be an opportunity for a cross-cultural partnership. Is there a church in your area with a significant Hispanic constituency that might provide an opportunity to share in an experience of Las Posadas? Or if you are a congregation used to this observance, whom could you invite to work with you this year? How could this event turn into something that creates an appreciation for a new culture or new expression of faith?
At the same time, this shared experience or embrace of a new cultural appreciation could be an opportunity for a more contemporary approach to this ancient story. Las Posadas is a reenactment of the holy family searching for shelter. There might be those in your midst for whom immigration is a vital issue. Just as Mary and Joseph struggled to find a place of shelter, so many who are refugees today also struggle. If someone has a contact with Exodus International or other refugee organizations, this could become part of the environment for this service.
Las Posadas can be a multiple-night experience or a single service. It can be done outside in the neighborhood or in a constructed location reproducing the experience of Bethlehem in symbolic ways. Here are some links that can provide further ideas about enacting this service.
For this Christmas season series, emphasize the presence of God, even in this stressful reenactment of searching for shelter. God is present in the dark of this night, even when we feel alone and uncertain. The liturgy of Las Posadas speaks of this presence, of the God of the dark.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.