Letter from the Rectory by Revd. Alex Pease
This letter first appeared in the December 2016 edition of Itchen Valley News
During the month of December we enter the period of the church year called Advent. It is a period of looking forward to the world changing event of Jesus’ birth which we celebrate at Christmas. It is a time when we remember that 2000 years ago a young engaged, but not married, couple travelled to Bethlehem, her heavily pregnant and him leading her on a donkey. Like many travellers over time, and even in our own day, for whatever reason, they were not welcomed at their destination. Doors were closed, all the rooms in the inns already taken, or perhaps the innkeepers felt that there was something disgraceful about having a couple who were not married, but about to have a child, under their roofs.
In a way, this closing of doors to the mother of the Christ child on the eve of his birth was to presage the way in which Christ would be rejected by so many of his own people when he started his ministry 30 years later. Closed hearts are like closed doors.
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, there is a Catholic tradition called Posada. By this tradition, the figures of Joseph, Mary and a Donkey (from a nativity set) travel around the young families of a parish, being welcomed on each of the days of Advent with a prayer and the lighting of a candle. The idea of Posada is that, in a reversal of the Advent story, the families of a community provide the inns denied to Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve. The families open the doors of their houses and their hearts to the Christ child.
This year, Posada is coming to Itchen Valley Parish! The figures of Joseph, Mary and a donkey from the Easton nativity set will travel around the Parish (in a wooden box filled with straw) stopping for one night at each of the houses of our young people, involving all those of our young families, who wish to take part, to act as innkeepers for the night! The journey will start at one end of the Parish and end in Easton at the Crib service on Christmas Eve. If you want to take part and have not already been contacted by me please let me know!
One of the ministry team will start the journey on Advent Sunday with one of the young families and leave Mary and Joseph (perhaps on display in a window) after saying a prayer and having lit an advent candle. Then that family will take the box round to the next family, and so on, until the final family brings them to the Easton Crib service. In this way we hope that many of the families from the four villages who may not know each other will be introduced, if they don’t already know them.
For many years as a young Christian (but an old adult – I did not become a Christian before I was 40) I just could not see why, when I explained the gospel the people to whom I was speaking, they just could not get it, when it seemed to make perfect sense to me!
Now I realize that whether we get Christianity or not depends upon us. Not upon anyone else, or their reasoning or persuasiveness. I now realize that each of us needs to make a decision on whether we are going to open our heart to Jesus, in the same way that those inn keepers needed to decide whether or not to open their doors to Joseph and Mary 2000 years ago, despite the scandal and other priorities that they might have felt that they had.
Jesus, the Light of the World, is knocking at the door of our hearts – as seen in this famous painting by William Holman Hunt:
When this painting was first displayed, observers said to the artist: ‘you have made a mistake…there is no handle on the door..’ ‘It’s no mistake,’ Holman Hunt replied, ‘the handle is on the inside….’
Let’s use the Advent season to take the opportunity to open the door of our hearts to the gentle knocking of Jesus and make him welcome in our lives and homes. If we do so, our lives will be totally transformed, we will learn why we are here and what we are for…and this Christmas will be unlike any other we have ever experienced.
A Prayer for Posada – say this together as a family!
‘There was no place for them in the inn’ Luke 2:7
God of stable, stars and surprises
of light and hope and new life,
may we make Jesus welcome in our hearts,
as we welcome these nativity figures into our home,
and may you open our eyes and hearts
to your presence in the world
so that we might hear again the song of the angels
and respond with a song in our hearts and in our lives
Revd. Alex Pease