Opening the door this Christmas
On a recent Friday night, a group of people stood outside the doors of the church I serve and sang in Spanish:
In the name of heaven
I ask you for shelter,
for my beloved wife
can go no farther.
Inside another group sang in response:
Get on with you,
I cannot open the door,
you might be a robber.
We were sharing the sixth night of Las Posadas, the nine-day journey of Maria y José that leads to Christmas Eve and the birth of their child in a barn.
For the last 25 years, at the invitation of our sister congregation, Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Community, United Church has hosted one night of our joint Las Posadas (along with St. Bede’s Episcopal Church). This treasured evening brings together Santa Fe Hispanic Catholics whose families date back hundreds of years with those of us who moved here more recently, be it from other parts of the U.S. or other countries.
Every year, regardless of who shows up, each night of Las Posadas is the same. Half the group gathers in the cold outside as los peregrinos (the pilgrims) with Mary and Joseph. The other half stays warm inside. They’re the innkeepers. The two groups sing back and forth to one another, with José, Maria and Los Peregrinos begging for shelter: No seas inhumano, tenos caridad … yo soy carpintero de nombre José. (“Don’t be inhuman, show some compassion … I am a carpenter named Joseph.”)
The innkeepers respond with fear and anger: No me importa el nombre, déjenme dormir, pues ya les digo que no hemos de abrir. (“Your name isn’t important, go away and let me sleep. I won’t open the door!)
When the innkeepers learn that José is traveling with Maria, they even question her moral character: ¿Pues si es una Reina del cielo, cómo es que de noche, anda tan solita? (“If she is a Queen of Heaven, why is she out at night, wandering so alone?”)
In the past, there’s often been some good-natured joking in this musical exchange, as both groups get into their roles — the pilgrims pleading their case and the innkeepers standing their ground. But the last few years, Las Posadas has taken on a deeper meaning, as more people in our time take perilous journeys in search of safety for their children, shelter and hope. Like the biblical Maria y José, they have “come to the door” of our own country in need of compassion and care. And like the innkeepers, each of us individually and our country as a whole, are faced with difficult decisions.
Unlike its portrayal on the Santa Fe Plaza, the traditional Las Posadas doesn’t include red-clad demons with tails and tridents. Neither do the Bible’s Nativity stories. The innkeepers and others in Bethlehem couldn’t blame the devil for turning away Mary and Joseph. Neither can we.
When the Las Posadas innkeepers finally realize that the strangers at their door are THE Joseph and Mary (bearing THE child), they fling it open and welcome them in. We probably would, too, if we knew it was the Christ Child in need of protection and care.
But as Las Posadas reminds us, it is the Christ Child at our door, our borders, in our midst. Christmas isn’t just about a special baby born long ago. It’s about seeing God’s light and holiness in every child, no matter their age or color or country. Christmas calls us not just to ooh and aah over the babe in the manger, but to open our hearts and our lives to all God’s children, especially those for whom this world has no room.
In 1534, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther told his German congregation in his Christmas sermon: “You have Christ in your neighbor. Serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.” May that be our call, too, this Christmas.
The Rev. Talitha Arnold is senior minister at United Church of Santa Fe.