Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Joseph says: Who will give lodging to these pilgrims who are weary of traveling the roads? We have come exhausted from Nazareth. I’m a carpenter, by the name of Joseph. In the name of the heavens, I beg you for lodging, my beloved wife can no longer travel.
People inside the Church answer: Although you tell us that you are weary, we do not give lodging to strangers. We don’t care what your name is; let us sleep. We are telling you that we will not let you enter.
On Sunday, December 19, 2021, the South Bronx Team Ministry [a shared ministry comprised of Misión de San Juan Bautista, St. David’s, St. Edmund’s, and St. Simeon’s] and St. Margaret’s celebrated Las Posadas (A Service of shelter for the Holy family) jointly for the first time. These two entities collaborated and worshipped at this one-of-a-kind bilingual Christian, biblical, and evangelistic service which bears its roots from the Hispanic culture. The service embodied a collection of Advent, Marian and Christmas songs accompanied with prayers and reflections in both English and Spanish. Las Posadas is a cherished Advent tradition that has been celebrated among families in Mexico and other Latin American countries for hundreds of years. In 1857, an enthusiastic priest, Fray Diego de Soria, a monk of the Order of St. Augustine, introduced the devotion in a church in Mexico. These celebrations were precisely at Christmas time and were a strong attraction to new Christians. Las Posadas became so popular that soon the celebration was taken up by other churches in Mexico and neighboring countries. Soon homeowners began celebrating in their homes where travelers went from house to house led by the angel with a little donkey on which the Virgin, Mary, was seated and Joseph walked by her side. For the most part, this celebration takes pace during Advent from December 16 through December 23 with a special service on December 24. During this novena (nine days of preparing our hearts to welcome Jesus into the world), the community gathers every night. While Las Posadas is celebrated in many unique ways today, the theme of hospitality remains vital. See a photo album of the event >
Today some churches embrace the Posadas celebration to help connect with new Latino neighbors. The Reverends Benjamin Nnaji [ Priest-in-Charge: St. Edmund’s, St. David’s, Misión de San Juan Bautista, St, Simeon’s, Bronx], Mario Martinez [Assistant priest: Misión de San Juan Bautista] and Theodora Brooks [priest-in-charge: St. Margaret’s, Longwood] and their respective congregations partnered and sought to do the same – connect with our neighbors. The service began with the priests accompanied by Mary, Joseph and the infant seeking entry into the Church. A dialog ensues between both groups - those inside and those outside:
People inside say: Who are the children of God?
People outside say: All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
People inside say: To what does the Spirit of God guide us?
People outside say: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control.
Once the people inside of the Church were persuaded to admit the entourage, they said, “Lodging we will give you with much happiness; enter, good Joseph; enter with Mary. Enter, holy pilgrims. Receive this corner not of this humble home, but of our hearts.” The entourage was received joyously to the music provided by a mariachi band. In his sermon, The Reverend Canon Victor Conrado, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Formation, encouraged us to be adventurous like Mary. He went on to further engage us in identifying the degradation of our individual communities which may be attributed to the pandemic – homelessness, unemployment, food insufficiencies, depression, lawlessness, fear. We have become estranged in our own skin; becoming to accustomed to isolation and alienation. Where is God throughout all this? What is God telling us to do during this time? These questions were also asked when the travelling Holy family sought a place to rest - How do we know we love the Lord and have faith?
What good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have work? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. A simple statement that appears to be on a loop in my head is ‘meet people where they are’. In doing so, by God’s mercy we may again find ourselves as we seek to serve others and treat each other with love.
The celebration concluded with a procession into the neighborhood. Mary, Miss Hailey Montilla, rode the pony holding the infant and Joseph, Mr. David Ash, walked alongside. As we traversed the neighborhood singing, we saw onlookers through their windows; they waved enthusiastically from their warm abodes as we passed by. It was our aspiration that our neighbors would join us even if it was simply out of curiosity. Again – meet people where they are. At least they now know that we are not just a building but a group of people within that building. We anticipate this service being a staple during Advent. When our neighbors are ready, our doors will be open to receive them and with this reception may we each find ourselves and offer a corner of our hearts in the process.
Story and photos from Stephanie Harris-Ash