In much of Latin America, this is the time for posada—a custom whereby the people in a village re-enact the trek of Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve night as they search for a place to stay. When Joseph knocks on the door of each house to ask for a room, the people turn the family away. Eventually, as in the gospel account of Christmas, Mary and Joseph find shelter in a barn, complete with the presence of the town folk serving as angels and shepherds and surrounded by local animals.
In one village’s re-enactment, everything was prepared for the posada—it happened it was the first time this poor village would enact it. Mary and Joseph were dressed and ready to set out for the countryside with the local burro carrying a very pregnant Mary; the people in the area were prepared and had rehearsed what they were all to do. As they set out on their journey, Joseph came to the first house and, gesturing to his pregnant wife, he begged for shelter. All according to plan, so far! However, instead of closing the door in their faces as they had been prepared to do, this couple was so moved by the sight that they unexpectedly and spontaneously responded, “Oh, please! Of course, you have to come in!” End of that posada!!!
While the posada is not something particularly familiar to us in our North American culture, I find this story filled with things to think about this Christmas. The incarnation event celebrated each year poses an interesting question for us: What response do we give when God attempts to intrude ever so gently upon our settled lives and disturb our pre-conceived notions of how a given day or night is to be spent or how our lives in mission are to unfold? The temptation to block out God’s “disturbance” is sometimes fairly strong—at least for me. We may not want to open ourselves to the consequences of such unplanned intrusion as the Gospel clearly calls us toward deeper conversion. We desperately may want to close the door to our hearts and souls and remain in the ersatz tranquility of our own plans, mindsets and predictable ways of living out our lives.
What might happen to us as a church and as a nation if we were to open doors rather than shut them in the faces of those in desperate need? What would happen if we moved away from building barriers to keep out those who have been designated “undesirable” or, even more arrogantly, “illegal” human beings? For certain, our country and our church would welcome the pain of conversion and move from suspicion and exclusion toward hospitality and compassion. Perhaps then we might more honestly identify ourselves as God’s people.
Sister Donna Markham, OP is President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.