Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas

“God is love… [and] God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9)

I've shared this before, but its worth sharing again... Usually when we hear the song The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we think of it as a fun secular song to be sung before Christmas. But at least some scholarship claims that it has distinctly religious origins, and was meant to be sung not before but after Christmas.

The story is that when King Henry VIII formed the Anglican Church in England back in the 16th-century, Roman Catholic Christians were not allowed by law to worship openly (they weren’t allowed to do this until 1829). So, in an effort to find a way to teach their faith to their children without the risk of persecution, English Catholics composed this song that had two levels of interpretation: (1) a harmless, secular, surface meaning with which we all are familiar; and (2) a spiritual interpretation that was originally known only to English Roman Catholics.

It’s the second interpretation that we Christians need to remind people of today, for each item in the carol was actually a “code phrase” to help teach a religious reality. The “twelve days” refer to the 12 days of the Christmas season in the Christian liturgical calendar – beginning with December 25th and ending on January 6th (the day of “Epiphany”). The “true love” is God, the giver of all good gifts (See Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13).

The other gifts represent...

1) “Partridge in a pear tree”-- a partridge bird sitting up high in a tree was said to be easy prey for hunting in medieval times, so it’s appropriate that the first and greatest gift represents God’s greatest gift to us: Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself as easy prey on our behalf.

2) “Two Turtledoves” –Symbolize the Old & New Testament. Recall also, that Mary & Joseph offered 2 turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple when Jesus was dedicated to God (Read Luke 2:22-24).

3) “Three French Hens” – represent either the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), or the three things that I Corinthians 13 says abide... “faith, hope, and love.”

4) “Four Calling Birds” – represent the four great early evangelists who told Jesus’ story through their writings... the writers of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

5) “Five Golden Rings” – symbolize the first five books of the Bible (Hebrew “Torah”=Law), upon which all our faith is based (remember that Jesus himself said he had not come to “abolish the law, but to fulfill it” --Matthew 5:17).

6) “Six Geese A-Laying” – since they are in the process of creating new life, these represent the six days of creation from Genesis 1.

7) “Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in Romans 12:6-8.

8) “Eight Maids A-Milking” – the eight Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.

9) “Nine-Ladies Dancing” – the nine fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.

10) “Ten Lords A-Leaping” – Since England in Medieval times was ruled by the laws of the King and his “lords,” this represented the “laws” of the Christian faith: the 10 Commandments.

11) “Eleven Pipers Piping – stand for the eleven faithful disciples (the 12 minus Judas Iscariot).

12) “Twelve Drummers Drumming – represent either: the twelve tribes of Israel; or (more commonly) the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed.

Whether or not this story is 100% accurate, it’s clear that this song can convey all of these reminders for those who have “ears to hear them” in this way. So, as we continue the Christmas season (which always includes New Year’s Day), may you be filled with a reminder of the many good “gifts” God gives to us, not only at Christmas but into the new year, as well. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

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