Posada os brindo, Santos Peregrinos, y disculpa os pido, no os reconocía.
(The inn I give you, pilgrim saints, and offer an apology, for not recognizing you.)
There is a tradition in Mexico around this time of year that we don’t do where I am from. It is called Las Posadas, and it is a bit of a different “Christmas pageant” than what I am used to. It re-enacts not just the birth of Christ—including the sheep, angels, shining star, wise men—but also the stressful loneliness leading up to that holy moment. It re-enacts the part where the woman in whom Christ dwells is turned away. The bearer of this baby—Mary—is not wealthy, not presentable, not good for business.
Eventually in Las Posadas, there is a moment when those playing the part of the expectant parents are permitted to enter. Part of the process is to utter an apology for the failure to see the gift that was being offered.
Disculpa os pido, no os reconocía.
We have watched a tragedy unfold at our southern border. For decades, fear and scarcity have forced people to do just what people did in Biblical times—leave their homes behind, trusting that God will not fail them as they step into an unknown land and an unknown future. In recent months, the drama has reached a fever pitch. Infants are separated from their nursing mothers. Tear gas. Tent cities. Tweets and headlines and pundits and politics.
The Christmas story I enacted as a kid, that I have coaxed my children into bathrobes and fluffy sheep ears to perform, casts us—casts me—as one who can see the gift hidden in that humble baby. But I have wondered this Advent—what if, instead, I had practiced embodying the one who was blind? What if, instead of being the hero, I could cast myself as one who viewed the gift of the Incarnation first through the lens of propriety, safety, profit, and reputation—and only later through the lens of repentance, gratitude, and grace? What if, over and over, I reminded myself of how instinctively I miss the presence of Christ in the world, and the promise of forgiveness, of new eyes, of the birth of hope that does not wait for me to welcome it? How might my heart have been formed if, instead of rehearsing my recognition of the gift of salvation, I had rehearsed having missed it altogether?
We are sorry. We did not recognize you.
In her book The Liturgical Year, Sr. Joan Chittister says that the waiting that characterizes the season of Advent is meant to train us in recognition:
The liturgical year does not begin at the heart of the Christian enterprise. It does not immediately plunge us into the chaos of the Crucifixion or the giddy confusion of the Resurrection. Instead, the year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.
The hope of Advent is, I believe, still hidden in plain sight—offered freely, rejected again and again.
I don’t know about you, but I am desperate for some hope this Advent season. I am running short on it, amidst the headlines of border walls and tear gas. Perhaps I will take up the lessons of Las Posadas and look in less predicted places for glimpses of that hope this year—less in the sanctuary, and more in the desperate mother, the reviled “other,” the exhausted pilgrim. Less in my own ways of understanding, and more in the wisdom offered by those I had learned to pity and to pass by. Less in the blessings of my comfort and wealth, and more in the One who hides in the face of the stranger, awaiting welcome.
Perhaps the hope to be found at the border today is the very truth we so desperately need—that despite our failure to earn it, to be worth it, to even accept it, God’s love persists. Despite our repeated rejection, God’s promise is born. Despite our blindness, the Christ child appears. He forgives. He lives.
Disculpa os pido, no os reconocía.