Bishop’s Letter: Christmas Mexican-style
Some years ago I went to see Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a small theatre called The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a venue which specialised in experimental theatre and we had been warned that the audience might get caught up in the drama. I hadn’t quite realised that we would be standing for much of the performance and then having to move around as the play unfolded, interacting with the actors. It was so real that by the end of the play I was left feeling that I hadn’t just watched a play but that I’d participated in violence and was even partially complicit in a murder!
It is easy to approach the events of Christmas dispassionately and at arm’s-length. But if we are to enter into the true meaning of the first Christmas, we too need to become part of the action.
For over 400 years Christians in Mexico have re-enacted the Christmas story each December. They call it Los Posadas. It began with the Spanish Conceptionist monks visiting each other’s monasteries, bearing statues of Joseph and Mary. They would knock on the great oak doors of the monastery, asking if there was anyone to welcome them and make room to receive Christ. Soon it was taken up by the local population and before long the tradition of making human sacrifices in honour of the God Huitzilopochtli was transformed from a time of bloodshed into a time of giving and celebration, as they received Christ.
This tradition persists today – and some of our churches and schools here in the diocese have picked it up. In the days leading up to Christmas, families set out, carrying statues of Joseph and Mary, and visit the homes of their neighbours. They knock on the door and ask “Is there anyone within who will make space for Christ? Will anyone welcome him?” Symbolically the doors are thrown open and space is made so that they may receive the Christ. The next day the statues are taken onto another home until they finally arrive at the church on Christmas Day.
And here is the great significance of the events of Christmas – Jesus Christ comes to us, our homes, our families. He is not contained in the churches or in the great monasteries of Mexico, but wants to make his home among us in the ordinary places of life, among us, the ordinary people. One of the most familiar carols is a prayer that each one of us will become part of the Christmas story.
Let us make this our prayer this year:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.
Bishop Alan, St Albans