“She placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.” Luke 2:7
Recently, I went to Fall River to place a Christmas wreath on the grave of my parents. My youngest daughter traveled with me. We did what many people do returning to their hometown - - we visited the different homes I lived in growing up.
Stopping by my first home (a humble home) I mentioned that a refugee family lived on our third floor; the father’s first job was being our “Handyman”. Our basement was home to a family from Hungary, who later rented a home in our neighborhood. An English woman, who had passport problems, lived with our family until her papers could be straightened out. Directly across the street, a Jewish family was afraid to display a Menorah in their window, in spite of my parents’ assurances it was safe to do so. The tradition of “taking people in” was an American way of life after service men and women had their eyes opened by World War II.
There is a tradition in Central America that has always resonated with me. It is called, “Posadas”, which means in Spanish, “lodging” or “accommodation”. Posadas reenacts Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the imminent birth of Jesus. It is a procession which occurs between December 16-24, celebrated to remind us all that we are only traveling through this life - - we are all refugees.
Recently, several Spanish families moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. They sought out a local church that spoke only English. As members offered rides to church, they communicated through non-verbal gestures and translator apps on cell phones. When the minister asked for new ideas for the Christmas season, the Spanish families were excited. “Of course, you will want Posadas!” The church, wanting to make them feel welcomed, took on the project. They of course had to learn the traditional song both in Spanish and in English:
The members of the church were struck by the lines, “Help us, we implore you!… One night of lodging for the Queen of Heaven” … “I have heard many stories … why does a Queen walk at night alone?” and then finally someone offers, “Welcome to my humble home. Though it’s little I can offer, all I have … call your own.”
In order to pull off the Posadas in an area unfamiliar with the procession, the church started months in advance. The Church approached 4 different homes (of people who were not members of the church) in 4 different neighborhoods. They explained the procession and its purpose - - their door would receive a “knock”, the Song of Posadas would be sung, the hosts would refuse to offer the family sanctuary, and the procession would proceed to the next house in a different neighborhood. Finally arriving at the church, the doors would be wide open, so everyone could see the barn shed set up at the altar.
On the designated night, the procession of Posadas arrived at each of the 4 homes. They knocked on the doors, Mary and Joseph asked for sanctuary, the Song was sung, and the Hosts refused to let them in. The Church was astonished that each of the 4 households joined the procession - - as did their neighbors! It seems the hosts were so honored to be chosen, they let all their neighbors know what the church was doing.
By the time the procession reached the Church Sanctuary and heard, “Welcome to my humble home. Though I have little to offer, all I have, call your own!” there was a huge crowd before the Church. People dashed off to get more food and drink … church members did not eat or drink to make sure there was enough for “all the ‘strangers’ who joined our procession and shared our celebration”! Upon reflection, the minister realized they had become a “church without walls”. It had happened because they had opened their doors to people in need and they taught us “a wonderful, sacred story to celebrate”.
Perhaps, that is what is so wonderful about First Parish Church, Congregational. Whether we pack containers with sewing machines, sports equipment, or musical instruments - - whether we provide winter boots and jackets for school children - - or COA baskets to residents - - or we buy animals from Heifer Project - - we are a mission-driven church. When someone “knocks” on our door for help, we seem to say, “Welcome … what little I can offer, consider it your own?”
Wishing you a Joyous Journey to Christmas