Author Archive for Pastor Gerardo Vázquez – Page 3

Origin of Las Posadas

In Mexico the tradition of Las Posadas begins on December 16th and is carried out in a series of festivities that have been held in Mexico since colonial times. The origin of this tradition is of a religious nature, in which Joseph’s and Mary’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem is represented; however, since the end of the 18th century festivities have been part of popular culture, organized by families in their houses.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztecs celebrated the arrival of Huitzilopochtli, who was the god of war. These solemn festivals took place during the month of panquetzaliztli, equivalent to the month of December, and lasted 20 days beginning on the sixth day of the month. Festivities included honoring their god by putting flags on the fruit trees and banners in the main temple. This tradition was known by the name of “raising of flags”. The people congregated in the courtyards of the temples and waited for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the 25th there were celebrations in all the houses. Food was offered to the guests, and they also were given some small pasta statues called “tzoatl”.

The anthropologist Fernando Híjar tells us that the tradition of Las Posadas commenced with the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. The religious leaders in charge of the evangelization of the people replaced the cult of the god of war with the European practice of preparation for Christmas, focusing on Christianity. At first these festivities were called “Christmas Bonus Masses”, and since then they have been held from December 16th to the 24th in the atriums of churches and convents.

The celebration consists of proclaiming the mass together with Biblical passages and representations alluding to Christmas. Additionally, small gifts are given to the attendees, known as aguinaldos, or bonuses. The people congregate in the courtyards of the temples and wait for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the next day there are festivities in all the houses, in which food and some small gifts are offered to the guests.

Throughout time, the same people were adding more attractive elements to these celebrations such as candles, sparklers and piñatas. Ultimately they adopted these parties into their neighborhoods and houses. This transition from the temple to the streets was allowed by the church in order for these festivities to have a greater diffusion among the inhabitants. So the tradition has been transformed according to the culture of each zone or region of Mexico.

La Posada people in costume

Once the guests to this celebration have gathered, they prepare to represent the request for accommodation made by Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary on their pilgrimage from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem. To symbolize this event, the guests make two groups. One group must leave the house accompanied by figures representing the pilgrims, Joseph and Mary, who ask for lodging at the door singing the following litany:

IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN I ASK YOU TO OPEN THE DOOR, BECAUSE MY BELOVED WIFE CANNOT WALK ANY FURTHER.

The people who stay inside must deny entrance at first, forcing the pilgrims to continue asking for an inn three more times. They play the part of the innkeepers and say,

THERE IS NO ROOM FOR RENT HERE.  GO ON, I CAN’T OPEN MY DOOR FOR YOU. DON’T PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT. YOU ARE A SCOUNDREL.

To culminate this part of the tradition, pilgrims are granted asylum with the following litany:

ENTER, HOLY PILGRIMS. PILGRIMS, RECEIVE THIS CORNER, WHICH, EVEN THOUGH MY DWELLING IS POOR, I GIVE IT TO YOU WITH MY HEART.

It is important to mention that during the pilgrimage, all the members carry candles and a booklet with the litanies. Participants can read the litanies in one voice.

Once entrance to the inn is granted, the coexistence among the participants begins. It reaches its maximum splendor at the moment of breaking a piñata, which must be full of fruit, sweets, and snacks. The role of the piñata in Las Posadas symbolizes the triumph of faith over sin. It must have seven points on it that represent the seven deadly sins. Sweets and fruits symbolize the grace of God. The blindfold is faith. God is represented by the stick, and the people around it symbolize the church members who will show the way to overcome sin.

In these days of a pandemic, access to all the inns in many places such as our Church is suspended, closed for the safety of all. In a season without a pandemic, for many Hispanic and Latino children these are very special days, full of happiness and joy for all. During these days’ children receive many sweets and warm foods such as tamales and corn atole or hot chocolate at night. During the cold and dark of winter, with its candles or sparklers, people are happy, listening to beautiful Christmas carols while waiting for Christmas.

At San José First Church, in December 2016 we started this beautiful tradition so that the Latinos of downtown San José could remember their traditions and teach their children about Christianity. In their hearts they can revisit the stories about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way Latinos live it in their countries. These days are special for them and their children. The traditions are the same for many countries, cities, towns and villages in Latin America.

I have been thinking a lot about the children of the El Maguey neighborhood and how very sad Christmas time is going to be for them. It’s not that I feel like I can be a super hero and fix everything, nor am I a saint. I’m just a rural shepherd who wants all people to be happy—especially the children, since I was also a child. El Maguey does not have many traditions since it is a 17-year-old colony founded by the Mexican government. They decided to make small houses for some of the people of Atotonilco El Alto, a nearby 480-year-old city that became overcrowded.  They looked for the poorest people from different low-income neighborhoods and populated this colony with all these people. They are often discriminated against, since everyone knows that people were relocated there as a mode of segregation.

My house is located in this colony and serves as the headquarters of my church, Cristo Vive, which provides light and hope for the people who live there.

In consideration of the fact that I still have vacation time from church, and after much praying and asking God for direction, I have made the decision to go to Mexico. Besides taking care of some personal matters there, I can be in El Maguey in time to celebrate the first two services of the year, and broadcast them on Facebook. In this way Latino members of our downtown church can also have their time of worship on those days.

In the last 6 months, the Methodist Women’s organization and the members of First Church have made donations to buy grocery bags for the neediest people during this pandemic. This provides a way for children to have a plate with food at home. During my visit I will be helping the leaders of Cristo Vive to distribute the food. I am looking forward to greeting people with a gesture of respect and love from San José First and to pray for them and for the neighborhood.

I will also be able to carry out the celebration of the Epiphany or the Day of the Magi on January 6, 2021. My plan is to arrange to have three trucks with three men characterized as the Three Kings and to tour the entire colony, visiting all the streets. We will play Christmas carols and deliver sweets and toys to the children we meet on the street. Using this method will ensure that children do not accumulate in one place and will provide them with a surprise, making this a day that is happy and special.

I am very aware that we are in a pandemic, which is dangerous for them and for me. So I will be taking all the necessary measures to keep a healthy distance and follow security protocols. My faith is placed in God, so that I know I can stay well and return healthy and full of joy and have satisfaction in my heart for doing what God asks me to do. He wants me to love every human being with respect and solidarity. From my hometown I will be praying for you and your families so that next year is better for everyone.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Advent Study Week 4

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK FOUR

Question 1:

“John records that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). … This is the point of Christmas. It is the celebration of light piercing our darkness, God’s light coming to us to enlighten our lives. We need not fear that we will stumble or become lost because we are no longer trying to find our way in the dark; we have the light of Christ by which we walk.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 130)

What Advent and Christmas celebrations most meaningfully convey to you God’s light “piercing our darkness,” and why?

Question 2:

“While Christians often speak about the Bible as the Word of God, the Word of God in its most decisive and definitive form came to us not as a book, but as a person. Jesus is God’s self-disclosure, God’s revelation of himself to humanity. God’s Word was incarnate in Jesus. All other words about God, everything else we read in scripture, must be read in the light of the Word of God that is Jesus. He incarnates the wisdom, reasoning, mind, and heart of God.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 134)

When has thinking about Jesus as the Word of God helped you understand other “words about God”?

Question 3:

We are God’s plan for changing the world. Let that soak in. … We are not just passive recipients of God’s love and grace. As we become children of the light, we cannot keep that light within ourselves. It is meant to spill out from us naturally and touch the lives of others. And every time it does, the light extends just a little farther, the darkness recedes bit by bit, the kingdom of God expands, and the world is changed.

“God sent Jesus to launch a revolution of the heart that ultimately leads us to take his light into the world. And how do we do that? It starts with watchfulness—paying attention to see where someone needs our support or our assistance.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 140-141)

How are you paying attention to the places and people to whom you can carry Christ’s light this Christmas?

Advent Study Week 3

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK THREE

Question 1:

“I do not believe that God sent the coronavirus, but I do believe he is with us in the midst of this pandemic, doing what God always does—comforting, leading, consoling, and wringing good from the adversity and pain. There will be plenty of silver linings from this frightening turn of events. Even now, in the midst of the pandemic, the world has changed in so many ways for the better. There is tragedy and death, but there is life, hope, goodness, and love.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 90)

Where are you noticing God “wringing good” from the pain of the ongoing pandemic?

Question 2:

“This is what we mean when we speak of the Incarnation: God took on flesh and entered our world as a human being. It is clear in scripture that Jesus is not merely God wrapped in human flesh—God in a body. He became human in Jesus. He experienced what we experience as humans. In Jesus, God experienced temptation, love, hunger, joy, fear, friendship, grief, doubt, rejection, a sense of abandonment by God, and death. He wept, he bled, he suffered, he died. There is something profoundly moving about God actually knowing what we are experiencing as humans.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 102)

When was a time you found special meaning and comfort in God having become human in Jesus Christ?

Question 3:

“Matthew begins his Gospel telling us that Jesus is ‘God with us’—Emmanuel. At the end of his Gospel, he recounts Jesus’s final words to his disciples, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). It is not just that God was with us in Jesus, but that Jesus continues to be with us. He is still Emmanuel. And because I believe he is with me, I live differently; I have peace, I find strength, I live seeking to walk with him.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 109)

How do you live differently because Jesus was and continues to be “Emmanuel”?

Blue Christmas: A Service of Lament, Hope, and Healing

blue lights on a Christmas tree

Blue Christmas Service
Sunday, December 20, 7:00pm on Zoom

For many people, Christmas is a difficult and painful time of year. The joy of the season can magnify feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression. The pandemic has resulted in unimaginable losses this year — loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of day-to-day routines, loss of activities, loss of visiting with friends, loss of pre-covid church, loss of spending the holidays with family, and many other losses. Local, national, and global problems can contribute to feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness as well.

Blue Christmas is a time to acknowledge such pain, sadness, and grief in a sacred space that reminds us we are not alone. Join us for an intimate Zoom Blue Christmas Service with prayer, readings, music, and candle-lighting as we support one another with compassion and understanding, opening our lives to hope and healing.

The Zoom link will be sent in an email. To get the Zoom link, email us or join our email list if you aren’t already receiving our emails.

Christmas Message from Pastor Gerardo

Winter is closer to us every day. The darker days affect people in various ways, some suffering from depression. I do not like short days, because it makes me feel that I have less time. But on the other hand, I like the cooler weather.

This year has been very difficult for many, and we already want it to end. This pandemic is affecting the world with death and worries. Many people are losing a family member or friend or we realize that a neighbor or a relative has contracted the virus. Also, the fight to contain the spread of the disease is greatly affecting economic affairs of many families and businesses. Both large corporations and small businesses have experienced layoffs of employees or closures of their companies. Many are bankrupt because of these closures. Many part-time and full-time employees have stopped working for months, and others have already lost their jobs. Rents, bills and debts do not wait, and many people are forced to get more loans to maintain their businesses. All of our lives are affected by the limitations imposed on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, barber shops, gyms, shops, and even grocery stores. This is not just in America, it is worldwide.

Apparently 2020 has also been a very bad year for the planet. Fires have devastated at least 5 western states in our country and flooding has caused damage in the central states. Southern Mexico and Central America have suffered with the floods caused by Hurricane Lota. Results of these catastrophes have cost billions of dollars and further overwhelmed hospitals. Populations of many countries across the globe are divided by political and social differences.

Certainly it is a very dark and difficult year. One of my brothers posted a question on Facebook asking why do we celebrate Christmas if we are not together. That made me sad, and surely others think the same. My mother used to say that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that there is no evil that lasts forever; however, nobody can resist it.

christmas lights in the shape of a christmas tree

I have noticed that many people are already putting up their Christmas lights and decorations. I’m glad to see this, since we must not lose faith and hope that we will soon come out of this crisis. We have to start thinking about what we have done wrong. What does our planet want to tell us regarding the circumstances that we are going through? Also, we need to value our family more, since life is very short. We need to rethink our values, since living with vanity is useless; youth and money are fleeting. We must focus more on God, love Him above all things, and allow His will to enable us to love one another as He loves us.

This Christmas Eve we must prepare ourselves with prayer and meditation to do things better for ourselves while still thinking about others. We can ask God that on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus will be born in our hearts and transform us from within. We want to become more like Him, full of light, humility and compassion for others. But above all we pray that we never lose the hope, peace, joy, and love that God offers us.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Advent Study Week 2

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK TWO

Question 1:

“I’m reminded of someone who once said to me, ‘Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?’ For some people, it feels like sin is the only thing they hear about in church. I want to be clear: if all you ever hear about in church on Sunday is sin, you’re probably in the wrong church. But if you never hear about sin in church, you may also be at the wrong church. The good news of Jesus is not that we’re sinners, but that he is our Savior. But we can’t appreciate his role as Savior if we don’t know we need to be saved.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 51–52)

How would you respond to someone who asked, “Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?”

Question 2:

“My experience, after forty-two years of being a Christian and attempting to walk with Christ daily, is that I am still tempted to think, say, or do things God does not intend. But when I turn to Christ, I sense his strength, his help, and his deliverance. He has transformed, and is transforming, my inner desires. We call this sanctification—the process by which the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds so that we become the people God intended us to be.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 59)

When was a time you were aware of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your life?

Question 3:

“Love came down at Christmas to a stable in Bethlehem, to two poor parents and a handful of night-shift shepherds. That love would be evident in the way he healed the sick, forgave sinners, welcomed children, fed the hungry, and cared for his disciples. But nowhere was that love more clearly seen than on the cross as he hung there, saying, ‘This much. God loves you this much.’”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 75-76)

Who has shared the message of God’s love for you in an especially meaningful way?

Advent Study Week 1

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

His parents gave him the name Jesus. But the prophets, the shepherds, the wise men, and the angels addressed him by other names. They called him Lord, Messiah, Savior, Emmanuel, Light of the World, and Word Made Flesh.

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

This Advent season church families will come together to remember what’s important. In the face of uncertainty and conflict, Christians reclaim the Christ Child who brings us together, heals our hearts, and calls us to bring light into the darkness.

Now more than ever, we invite you to reflect upon the significance of the Christ-child for our lives and world today!

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK ONE

Question 1:

“This season puts into perspective all our political wrangling. … While our politics have divided us, Advent should bring us together, uniting us around the newborn King and his life, message, ministry, death, and resurrection. … Advent beckons all who consider themselves Christians—regardless of whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Independents—to come to the stable and there fall on our knees as the shepherds surely did, yielding our allegiance, our hearts, and our will to the newborn King.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 17–18)

How are you experiencing unity among Christians, despite their political differences, this Advent?

Question 2:

“We live in that period between the triumph of Easter and Christ’s triumphant return when he makes all things new. We see a world where suffering still occurs, where darkness seems to reign, where the kingdoms of this world seem to have the upper hand. We continue to live as followers of the King whose kingdom is not of this world, but breaking into this world through his followers—through us.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 38)

How do you believe Jesus’s kingdom is breaking into this world through your community of faith?

Question 3:

“Today, nearly a third of the world’s population claims Jesus as their King. Far more have been influenced by the things he taught, the values he espoused, the life he lived. I don’t believe it is an overstatement to say that he is the single most influential person to have walked this planet. For those who count him as King, as I do, we awaken each day recognizing that our highest allegiance, our deepest devotion, and our greatest commitment is not to country or political party or even to family, but to Jesus the Christ, our King, whose kingdom is the climax of human history.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 38–39)

What do you consider the most significant measure of Jesus’s influence on the world?

Thanksgiving / El Día de Acción de Gracias

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays in North American culture that I like the most, because it is a celebration of gratitude to God for what was received during the year. Or as they say, it is the harvest of what is sown.

I am not going to write about the history of this tradition; you know it well, because it is yours. I will write about how we Hispanics live it in this great country. For me it is very satisfying to hear that people share with those who do not have what is needed: the pumpkin pie, the corn bread, the champagne, and above all, the baked stuffed turkey. The whole family gets together. Members travel from different states to be present that day with their loved ones, and everyone prays and gives thanks to God.

Painting of the first Thanksgiving meal

Hispanics/Latinos are embracing this celebration with great respect as God is present in united families. Some Mexicans do not know how to cook the traditional delicacies, so we use our own recipes and cook foods such as pozole and tamales, and our beverages are punch and tequila. We do not try to change the traditions, but because we don’t know how to cook turkey in the oven, it turns out very hard and dry. So, in order not to fail, we eat our own dishes. The important thing about this date is not the food, but rather being together, and, united as a family, giving thanks to God for what we have received from the fruits of our labors.

The pandemic has changed our lives. For everyone’s safety many families will not meet this year, so that the virus does not spread further. We want to be healthy and alive for next year. So, traditions will be set aside. I know that many will call their families by phone or video to greet each other or visit during virtual dinners. It is sad, but we should not be discouraged; instead we should thank God that we are alive. We can be heartened by sharing with those around us.

This year I want to thank the members of First Church and the Methodist women for their donations, making it possible for the families in El Maguey to have food on their tables in these difficult times. For them it is a blessing and also for you, since they are doing what God likes: helping and loving our neighbors as ourselves. On Friday November 13th in El Maguey, Cristo Vive distributed 120 grocery bags for families in need. It is a blessing and a reason to thank God and you.

This coming Thanksgiving Day I recommend that you do not stop celebrating, either alone or in company. You have to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for His love, protection and blessings.

Today we celebrate that God is good and always will be. We thank God for being our Heavenly Father, He has provided bread in the home and has given strength to each one in the family to continue achieving dreams. Thank God for being the light in the midst of the darkness of hardships. In difficult moments He has been our comfort. Thank God for his blessings and for the happiness He brings to our hearts.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.”

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: Advent – One Good Word

Advent words Hope Peace Joy Love

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

~ by David Whyte

“People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.” Advent is the season for one good word. Along with many churches all over the world, each of the four weeks of Advent we will light a candle and welcome one good word in anticipation of the coming of Christ – Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Surely, these are good words and can illumine even, and perhaps especially, the darkest night.

Throughout this Advent season, I invite us to receive each Advent word as a gift, welcome each word as we would a guest, return to each word when we feel lost or depressed or overwhelmed or angry, and offer each word as a prayer or blessing for ourselves and others.

This kind of prayer is less about talking to God and more like allowing each word to set a gentle intention of the heart, to give our lives direction, to open our lives to the fullness of God’s presence, who is closer than our breath, closer than our thoughts. This kind of prayer begins to take us beyond conversation with God to communion with God. May we be generous in our prayer and share one good word with a world that hungers for the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that Christ brings.

Advent Blessings,
Jeffrey

Advent is coming!

It seems too early to think about Advent, but November 29th is the First Sunday of Advent, so it’s right around the corner.

Pastor Jeffrey will lead an Advent study on Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 14, and 21. As everything is these days this study will meet on ZOOM. There will be an option to call in if you don’t have access to video. We’ll be using the book, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas by Adam Hamilton.

About the author: Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of the 22,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, the largest United Methodist congregation in the world, measured by both weekend attendance and membership.

About the book: Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

His parents gave him the name Jesus. But the prophets, the shepherds, the wise men, and the angels addressed him by other names. They called him Lord, Messiah, Savior, Emmanuel, Light of the World, and Word Made Flesh.

This Advent season church families will come together to remember what’s important. In the face of uncertainty and conflict, Christians reclaim the Christ Child who brings us together, heals our hearts, and calls us to bring light into the darkness. Now more than ever, we invite you to reflect upon the significance of the Christ-child for our lives and world today!

The books for the study come in hardback, large print paperback, and ebook. The ebook is cheaper on Amazon ($9.99), but the actual books are much cheaper if we order them from Cokesbury, the retail section of the Methodist Publishing House. We would like to order books for everyone at one time from Cokesbury to minimize the shipping costs. Hardback copies are $13.49. Large print paperbacks are $13.99.

If you would like to join the study and have your book ordered from Cokesbury, email Susan before 12:00noon on November 13. This will give us time to order the books and get them to you before Thanksgiving. You’re welcome to decide to join the study after November 13, but you will need to get the book on your own.