With Eyes of Faith
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Of all the Advent traditions we participate in each year, the celebration of Las Posadas, a nine-day novena augmented with processions, prayer, music and song, may best represent the spirit of synodality, as we gather to listen, pray and accompany one another through the ‘pilgrimage of our lives.’

Though closely associated with the Mexican culture for over 400 years, Las Posadas was brought to the Americas by Spain in the 1500s where it reenacts the journey of Joseph and Mary as they make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman Census. Participants accompany the Holy Couple as they seek shelter from the cold and a place where Mary may give birth to her child.
There are many possible reasons why this tradition speaks so strongly to our Spanish-speaking community more than say, the Advent wreath or Jesse Tree (which primarily ‘count the days’ until Christmas).

Perhaps they are drawn to the theme of family or community. Or it could be that of a family leaving their homeland and going to a distant place where they are strangers -- seeking to make a new life for themselves and their families. Many of their ancestors and perhaps themselves personally, made similar sacrifices to come to the United States only to be subject to suspicion and rejection as were Joseph and Mary when they sought help.

Las Posadas is indeed about justice. Mercy and forgiveness. And the dignity and worth of each man and woman.

And that can be scary, just ask King Herod… Las Posadas challenges not only the long-held myth of the individual ‘pulling him/herself up by their bootstraps’ but also the hard fought (and won) status quo forged by European (and predominantly) Roman Catholic immigrants to the United States who clawed their way up into society in order to survive and have a place at the table of power. Many such descendants today are reluctant or even fearful about making room there for the late-comers.

We see this tension on display in how we approach our celebration of Christmas.

Too often we seem so eager to get to the Nativity scene, where everything is sanitized and picture-perfect that we miss the greater message of the season: Emmanuel, God is with us! In all our stink and poop. In our sinfulness and unworthiness, God says, “I am there with and for you. You are my child. And I love you.”

You. Me. Everyone needs to hear those words. We all need to believe them.

God didn’t send His Son only for those who are perfect but for those who aren’t. To encourage and reconcile with us, so that we might count our blessings and show gratitude to God by sharing them with others.

Las Posadas is counter-cultural, like our faith. It reminds us that we are our brother and sister’s keeper. That the Son of God was not born in a stately mansion or castle, but in a lowly stable or animal pen. His parents were Jewish and immigrants and refugees. They were homeless. Asking for help, they were rejected multiple times, but they persevered – not only for their own sake, but for God’s son’s. And finally their prayers were answered. When they knocked, they were welcomed and provided shelter for the night.

That humble act of kindness and compassion by an unnamed individual not only restored their hope it renewed their faith in humanity. And for me, that is the true message and meaning of the Advent season.

May we not be in so great a rush to open our presents but instead, savor the journey, embrace the spirit of Las Posadas every day and allow ourselves to be just as big hearted and welcoming to the stranger at our door.

It might just be the Magi, searching for the new-born King. And someone said he lives in you.

John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.