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There are Twelve days of Christmas. Perhaps as Baptists we are familiar with the song referencing the twelve days, but are probably unfamiliar with the celebratory nature of the observances which last a fortnight. Why twelve days? According to some scholars, the song was a clandestine catechism for Roman Catholics living in the shadows in
a time when being a “Papist” was a crime against the state. England
Others speculate the catechism to be the stuff of urban legend; not rooted in any historical evidence whatsoever. Whatever the case may be, the Twelve Days of Christmas date prior to the Medieval Period in Western history. The Twelve Days commence on Christmas Day and end on Twelfth Night, January 5. The celebrations associated with Twelfth Night often overlap with those commemorating the visitation and adoration of Jesus by the Magi, or Wise Men.
How can we as followers of Jesus take this “catechism” as a guide to keeping the Twelve Days of Christmas, though? Why should we keep them in the first place? How is the effort in observing each day beneficial to our pilgrimages of faith in Christ? One of the great 20th century teachers of Christian spirituality, Richard J. Foster, wrote in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, “… [To] elicit genuine celebration, obedience must work itself into the ordinary fabric of our daily lives. Without that our celebrating carries a hollow sound. For example, some people live in such a way that it is impossible to have any kind of happiness in their home, but then they go to church and sing songs and pray ‘in the Spirit,’ hoping that God will somehow give them an infusion of joy to make it through the day. They are looking for some kind of heavenly transfusion that will bypass the misery of their daily lives and give them joy. But God’s desire is to transform the misery, not bypass it.” This is the fundamental reason for observing the Twelve Days of Christmas in the midst of work shifts, family challenges, and/or facing health and financial crises, for instance.
The Twelve Days represent an affront to the secular, worldly modus operandi of living without God. Despite living in the world, we seek to celebrate the extraordinary in the midst of the upheaval and irregularities of life. We don’t bypass them, but rather we face them in, through and because of Jesus Christ. Through this approach to celebrating eternity among the temporal and finite circumstances of human life on this big, blue marble, we are keeping Christmas at the cosmic and eternal level. Rather than focusing on the stable & manger alone, we take Christmas to the broader dimensions of the entire salvation story. As Christ is the Word made flesh, we consume and embody the Word of God through Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, community worship, prayer, fasting and service to others. These are not occasional efforts and experiences, but rather they are to become genuine habits of the heart which are done with great frequency and urgency.
Hence, we are to celebrate Christmas in the fashion that will form new spiritual habits for each of us. On the evening of December 26, my wife and I were saddened by the sight of a tree already stripped of its Christmas décor and thrown away on the side of the curb. For me, this represented a real and sobering testimony of what many of our neighbors take Christmas to be – temporary and dispensable. But the spiritual transfusion never comes as society seeks to celebrate and “believe” without acknowledging the author of said celebration and of true faith. Many give gifts, but retain their sadness, regret, shame, anger, insecurities and are far from generous along those lines. Rather than give these over to God, they are emotional misers and spiritually bankrupt. Yet, we must, with God’s help and favor, defeat the darkness within each of us if we are ever to confront the darkness outside of us.
This Christmas, we need to realize the immense spiritual warfare that occurs during this most holy of seasons. It is a time of genuine reflection, prayer but also of commitment to discipline and obedience. It is a sobering time to acknowledge the historical reality that Jesus actually did live among us, died, resurrected and will surely come again. Satan knows this to be true and probably has a greater respect and fear for the inevitable return of Christ than we as Christian do in general. We usually seek to make God visible in safe and controllable settings as in a crèche or tree. Far more time spent in making God invisible. The challenge for us all is to make God clearly visible in our daily lives and to ensure others see Him through us, too, each and every day. This is how the Spirit of Christmas, Emmanuel, really is taken to others for them to see and hear how God is indeed, with us.
So as we shared with all of you on Christmas morning about the shepherds’ urgency and obedience led to others becoming amazed at news of the Child’s birth in
, we too are called to the very same
obedience and urgency. Let it begin with
each of us in the following manner: Bethlehem
Take the lyrics of the Twelve Days of Christmas and read each line corresponding to the day of the season. For instance, the Partridge in a Pear Tree represent Jesus Christ. Take the entire day to think, pray, meditate, read and attend to Christ. The Second Day of Christmas “my true love,” which is actually God and not an earthy lover, gave us Two Turtle Doves. These doves represent the Old and New Testaments. Take the day to read about how the testaments were organized, read a portion of scripture from the Old and New Testaments as well. Daily reading guide are an excellent way for this to become a daily habit. Go to my blog at www.pastordanielmedina.com and click on The Voice/Christian Resource Institute icon available on the right hand column. The site will afford you with a fantastic daily reading guide for use throughout the entire year.
The Three French Hens represent the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. The Four Calling Birds, the Four Gospels. The Five Golden Rings are the first Five Books of the Old Testament, also referred to as the "Pentateuch". The Six Geese A-laying are the six days of creation and the Seven Swans A-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Eight represent the eight beatitudes and the Nine Ladies Dancing express the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Ten Commandments are illustrated by the Ten Lords A-leaping and the Eleven Pipers Piping personify the eleven faithful apostles. Finally, the Twelve Drummers Drumming betoken the twelve points of doctrine as found in the Apostle's Creed, one of the original ecumenical creeds of the
. Universal Church
Take each of these days to ponder on the mystery, majesty and power of God. Take each of these days to experience a different dimension of God’s unfathomable gift to each and every one of us. From Christ, to Creation, to the Scriptures, to the Fruits of Spirit, these are the greatest gifts of all – given to all this Christmas and every single day of the year.
Begin a new tradition at home. Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Keep your trees up and continue to light your homes. Play Christmas music and continue to wish everyone you see a “Merry Christmas”, too. Make seasonal food. Make the time, invest in the effort, have discipline and obey. Read the portions of Scripture related to this season and teach your children the same. These are the steps to the real revolution; one that begins insides and spreads across families, friends, homes, workplace, neighborhoods, parishes and communities everywhere. People are hungry for God; they just lost sight of Him, because they’ve made Him invisible. Be the light in the darkness and let them see. They will be amazed.
On behalf of my wife, Maiby, our family and this humble servant, we pray that Almighty God graciously bless each of you and your loved ones this Christmastide.
Always in Christ,
The Rev’d Dr Daniel Medina
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