While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
Nativity scenes are perhaps the most enchanting part of the Christmas season. For these few strange and wonderful weeks we see treasured members of the biblical narrative on display in stores, restaurants, windows, and lawns. For centuries artists have tried to capture the quiet beauty of Mary and Joseph beaming over “the son of the most high” (Luke 1:32). Together the beloved couple and their divine baby rest beside a few animals and frame the best family portrait of all time.
Majesty in the simple. God in the flesh.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
There is, however, a story behind that picture that Luke is careful to point out in his account of Jesus’s birth. The manger with all of its wonder, we are told, was not their first stop. The night of Jesus’s birth, as it turns out, starts with a hospitality problem. Apparently no one in Bethlehem would welcome in this family from Nazareth during their time of need.
John reflects on the theological implications of this and other moments where we struggle in our humanity to make room for God. In his ontological ‘birth’ narrative, John declares that “[Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). John laments that even though God creates us, when God comes to dwell among us, we do not welcome him. Luke’s gospel reminds us that when Mary carried Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem, no one would receive them, and John’s gospel implies that Christ’s own journey from heaven to earth suffered the same rejection.
In Spain, Central, and Latin America as well as certain parts of the US, there is a celebratory tradition that begins not at the manger, but in the desperate search for a place to stay. During Las Posadas neighborhoods come together for days or even weeks to reenact the struggle Mary and Joseph experienced in finding a place to stay. Night after night the ones dressed as Jesus’s earthly parents knock on the doors of costumed innkeepers who aren’t interested in hosting this family of strangers. Closing those doors behind them the innkeepers sing songs in Spanish that translate in English to things like, “Get on with you. I cannot open the door; you might be a criminal.”
At our OC Online Spiritual Life Christmas Chapel & Party we invited guest speaker Jackie Gonzales to tell us more. Jackie celebrates Las Posadas and shares its theology with the youth she serves; she said:
“My parents are from Guatemala and Cuba so we start celebrating on November 30. There is a couple with a child. Usually in Guatemala we choose a family that is going to have a baby just to make it a little closer to the actual story of Mary and Joseph. [Together] we basically go around our whole neighborhood and we sing songs. We sing to each and every household that plays the role of the innkeeper and we keep getting rejected until the last stop. Which is the same story as Mary and Joseph. …It really focuses on how we want to be generous, compassionate, and hospitable.”
In Las Posadas, as well as other celebrations about Jesus’s birth we are encouraged to remember that God Incarnate came to us despite our inability to bring proper welcome. This is grace: that God would come anyway. As one high school student said, “Jackie [asked us] ‘Are we going to be saying yes every day to this gift Christ gave us?’ I love how she phrased this, and I am going to say yes and try to implement this into my life all the time.”
In order to continue to gather together around this gift as an OC Online community, we also explored Las Posadas in a faculty meeting. After hearing a devotional about it, here is what a couple of our teachers had to say in response:
We are looking for ways to bless those around us this Christmas, so the reminder about hospitality is timely as our hearts for others will usually begin, and be stoked, at home. I want our kids to grow up with hearts for those around them, not closed-off hearts…
The key point here is the difficulty they had finding a room and the apathy of the innkeepers. It reminds us to be open to God’s leading and open our homes and hearts to those around us to share in the gifts He has given us.
Las Posadas carries particular meaning to us this year because it teaches us about hospitality in the season of advent. This is fitting because during the 2021-2022 OC Online school year we are exploring our faith together through the lens of hospitality. As a faculty and staff we’re contemplating questions like:
- What does it look like for us to be present to students and to show them that we are here even though we’re often communicating asynchronously?
- How do we create an online classroom environment that feels like a place where students feel safe to learn, question, challenge, struggle, fail, and try again?
- How do we remain attentive and interested in our students even if we never receive personal communication from them?
- Overall, how do we “make room” in this unique online context?
In one of our professional development units we had the opportunity to apply some of Dr. Amy Oden’s hospitality research to the online classroom. She identifies five elements of Christian “welcome” (left column) which we then attempted to apply in our unique virtual context (right column):
|Understanding Welcome||Welcoming the Stranger in an Online Classroom|
|Greeting the Stranger: We don’t wait for the stranger to make the first move. We step out and welcome first.||What is one practical way you take the first step in greeting students in your online class? Or, what is one question you have for the rest of the faculty about this?|
|Restoration of the Stranger: We take the time to listen to the real needs of the person and see if we can take care of them.||What is one practical way you identify unique, individual needs of students in your online class? Or, what is one question you have for the rest of the faculty about this?|
|Extending One’s Social Network/Social Capital: We share our connections, relationships, and opportunities.||What is one practical way you connect students to nourishing people and/or resources that might help them? Or, what is one question you have for the rest of the faculty about this?|
|Dwelling Together: We hang out and live life together. We invite the stranger into ordinary life including sharing spiritual experiences.||What is one strategy you have for including appropriate, ordinary life experiences into what you do as an online teacher? Or, what is one question you have for the rest of the faculty about this?|
|Sending Forth: Hospitality does not create long term systems of dependence but assists in the transition into new opportunities.||How do you empower students toward lifelong learning that is not dependent on you or on a school? Or, what is one question you have for the rest of the faculty about this?|
These questions are ones we will need a whole year and more to wrestle with. The questions of hospitality are lifelong and applying them as online Christian educators is particularly important to us in this context.
Specifically, this Christmas we want to learn from the innkeepers about the consequences of a closed door and the sacredness of an open one. We ask that God would stir renewal in us during our time off so that we can return in the spring with new ideas for practicing hospitality together.
Most of all, we want to use this time to sings songs and pray prayers of celebration to the God who responds to our closed doors not with hopelessness, but with the promise of a manger.
God, in this Christmas season, let us remain open to those you love, which is everyone. Amen.