12 Days of Christmas

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"'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD. 'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the LORD. 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'" - Jeremiah 31:31-34

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Much of society sees the 12 days of Christmas as the days leading up to Christmas Day, but rather they are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany, January 6th.

The popular song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters.

The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the gifts refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian faith. And each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian faith that was important for children to learn.

Day 1: A Partridge in a Pear Tree = The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to draw predators away from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)

Day 2: Two Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

Day 3: Three French Hens = The Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love, taken from 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Day 4: Four Calling Birds = The Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

Day 5: Five Gold Rings = The first 5 books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

Day 6: Six Geese A-laying = The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

Day 7: Seven Swans A-swimming = The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11).

Day 8: Eight Maids A-milking = The eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Day 9: Nine Ladies Dancing = The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

Day 10: Ten Lords A-leaping = The ten commandments: You shall have no other gods before me; Do not make an idol; Do not take God's name in vain; Remember the Sabbath Day; Honor your father and mother; Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17).

Day 11: Eleven Pipers Piping = The eleven Faithful Apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.

Day 12: Twelve Drummers Drumming = The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

So whether the song is nonsense or a song of catechism for the early church, it is still a song in celebration of Christmas. This song, and many others, help us to celebrate the rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue during the holiday season.

Prayer: 
O God, who celebrates with us the yearly remembrance of the birth of Your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge. Amen.
Date: 
Dec 28 2017