Today’s Bible reading
“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
More thoughts for meditation
As we gather around our Christmas trees to celebrate Christmas, few of us think of Christmas Day as a beginning. For most people Christmas is the culmination, the climax, of weeks of planning, shopping, and anticipation. Not many are even aware that Christmas is but the first day of a twelve-day season of joy.
Ever since the Council of Tours met in 567 and proclaimed the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred and festive time, the church officially has observed both an Advent season for preparation and a Christmas season for the celebration of our Lord’s nativity.
Unfortunately much of the richness of these religious seasons was muted in the Reformation. The Reformers tried to move people from the visual to the intellectual, from elaborate ritual to the simple observance; they favored minimalist gatherings for teaching and prayer rather than spectacles. As a result, the festivals of Advent and Epiphany, which had become the mix of biblical stories and allegorical traditions they are still today, were suppressed in Reformed churches. However, in spite of the church’s stand, people weren’t willing to give up some of their delightful Christmas customs. As a result, Advent and Christmas became desacralized, became times of good-natured reveling rather than times for spiritual observance.
Recently Evangelicals and Anabaptists have tried to recapture the spiritual festivals of the Christian year. They have revisited the wisdom the church year dramatizes and how it gives the whole church another look at the story of Jesus at the heart of everything. We are among those few Protestant-based Christians who have recovered some of the richness of the traditional religious seasons and festivals. The church year forms an annual curriculum, of sorts, that tells the story of our faith: those who experience it soak up the basics of the gospel.
So let’s have the twelve days of Christmas until January 5 (Twelfth Night) and enjoy Epiphany, January 6.
The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” can lead us. This old carol is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children. However, some authors in the 1990’s suggested that it was also 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 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 presents refers to every baptized person who shares faith in Jesus. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the truth in Christ that is important for children to learn. It is probably just a fun dance song that is sort of annoying when it is merely sung. But pondering how it could represent deeper things is fine. Jesus followers can meditate on almost anything and experience the presence of God leading us to dance! So let’s start with a line from the “Twelve Days” each day..
On the 1st day of Christmas my true love sent to me… A partridge in a pear tree
Since partridges are unlikely to be seen in pear-trees (they are ground-nesting birds), it has been suggested that the text “a pear tree” is a corruption of the French “une perdrix” (a partridge).
For those who want this song to have a religious meaning, the partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge. Legend has it that partridge mothers will feign injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. This would be something like the Lord’s sentiment in today’s reading, wanting to take Jerusalem under his wings like a hen. The ground-nesting partridge stuck in a tree is as odd as the Son of God, now lying relatively secure in the manger, nailed to “the tree.”
Suggestions for action
Pray: I greet you Lord, born this happy morning. To you be all glory given.
George Gallup identified Christian nurture at home as the sharpest difference between churched and unchurched Americans. Repeated traditions help all of us know and remember who we are and develop our identity as God’s children. The celebrations help us all express our faith.
Advent was meant for anticipation and preparation. Christmastide was for an extended celebration. Getting the horse back into the barn it escaped on Black Friday is probably a lost cause. But these entries are little gifts to help us recover from the worldly glut that most of us just experienced and refocus on the Joy to the World about whom angels were singing in the wee hours of this morning. If you really want to get into it, you could spread out the kids’ gifts over twelve days with the best one reserved for Epiphany. You could offer little gifts to those you love or who ought to love Jesus over these days of celebration—just little love notes would be more than most people get.
Like Jesus, you might want to look out over our region and have some feelings. On the one hand, literally millions of people understand quite well what this day is all about. On the other hand millions do not know what their ignorance and rejection is storing up for them. We wish we could hold them all in love.
For more on Christmas Day, see Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body
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