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Second Sunday of Advent

Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6

December 5, 2012

In the liturgical cycle of the lectionary, Advent 2012 inaugurates a year of reflections on the word as interpreted through the lens of the gospel of Luke. It is this gospel with its rich narratives that sits squarely at the heart of the Christian imagination regarding the coming feast of Christmas. The majority of the imagery we associate with the birth of Jesus as represented in arts, crafts, literature, music and a variety of popular practices and performances draws from engagements with Lucan texts.

A post-Enlightenment proclivity for rational discourse over the affective and aesthetic sometimes dismisses these expressions of popular theological imaginations as sentimental or nostalgic. However, an exploration of these "cultural texts" provides a wealth of theological insight that reflects a dynamic and ongoing interaction with the biblical texts over many centuries. Our preparation for our anticipated celebration of the Incarnation provides us with an opportunity to consider the practices of the season which we use, to borrow the words of the psalmist, to remind us of the many great things our God has done for us (Ps. 126).

As he does with this Sunday's gospel, Luke situates the ministry of John and the birth of Jesus in a concrete socio-political context, one characterized by imperial control of all aspects of life including the religious. The significance of locating the Incarnation in a particular time and place is communicated in any number of Advent and Christmas season practices found in Iberian, Latin American and U.S. Latin cultures. From nacimientos (nativity scenes) to pastorelas (shepherds' plays) to posadas (Mary and Joseph's search for lodging) these visual representations and ritual performances seamlessly integrate temporal and geographic elements in a manner that conterminously establish the Incarnation in both the past and the present. This integration of details between past and present implicates contemporary communities and invites believers to respond in their own day.

For example, in about a week various families and communities, including here in Chicago, will participate in las posadas. The point of departure for this Advent practice is the latter half of Luke 2:7 "because there was no place for them in the inn." Las posadas reenact the journey of a family made temporarily homeless by an imperial decree. Through ritual neighborhood processions, traditionally repeated over the nine nights preceding December 24, the arduousness of finding aid or generosity among strangers is communicated. Neighbors re-live the struggle with a series of rejections until finally the Holy Family is welcomed with a nightly fiesta at the final stop. This participatory experience viscerally situates the Incarnation in the heart of community with its attendant obligations. This theology-in-motion confronts believers with fundamental questions: Will the Word-made-flesh find a home here and if so what are the implications for our actions and responsibilities in relation to others?

Culminating in fiesta, las posadas respond to the promise of the Incarnation with a profound joy that is not naïve about the complicated human and cosmic contexts into which the Messiah is born. It is a type of joy alluded to by the psalmist: "our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing" (126: 1-2). Theologian Roberto Goizueta suggests that fiestas are not forms of escapism from quotidian misery rather they are active manifestations of resistance to suffering within the context of the daily. Fiestas celebrate life in defiance of all that seeks to demean and bring harm. Fiestas affirm the graciousness of life and relationships in ways that inextricably connect past, present and anticipated future. With their eschatological and cosmological implications, these celebrations of life amidst struggle remain an affirmation of the good news, a concrete response to the gift of the Incarnation. These certainly are matters to ponder in this season of anticipation and preparation.

Carmen Nanko-Fernandez

Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry
Director, Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry
Director, Certificate in Pastoral Studies

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