Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Twelve Days of Christmas (Page 1 of 6)

January 5 — The twelfth day of Christmas

Image result for twelfth night christian

Today’s Bible reading

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5: 14-16 (TEV)

More thoughts for meditation

The twelve days of Christmas traditionally end with the celebration of the eve of Epiphany on Twelfth Night, January 5th. The church generally begins its feasts on the eve of the day (like Christmas Eve or Hallowe’en). Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus as the Savior of the whole world as first shown by the coming of the magi. Twelfth Night is the time to remove the festive decorations, leaving just the lights on the tree for one final evening to emphasize the Epiphany theme of Jesus as the Light of the World.

Sing this song with your family or roomies as you take down the decorations!

In England in the Middle Ages, Christmastide was a season of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was forever solidified in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his most famous stage plays.

On this last day of Christmastide, we finally get to the last verse of our song! On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Twelve drummers drumming.

According to the thought that this song has a secret meaning for Catholics to use in catechizing children and converts, the “twelve drummers” stand for the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed, which is a short summary of the points of faith a person should affirm before they are baptized.: 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.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Fill me and my home with light. Make me and our church the light of the world this year.

Some people eat their Epiphany cake as part of the Twelfth Night celebration. Baked into the  cake are three hidden coins, nuts, or beans. Sometimes they give crowns to those who find the objects hidden in the cake, making them “kings” or “queens” for the evening. They can “rule” over the party. I’d ask them to grant crowns to everyone as one of their first acts. If you follow the Austrian custom of burning incense (an ancient symbol for prayer) to “welcome the three kings,” the “king” can lead a procession throughout the house as you ask God to bless your life this year in the various rooms. Take the procession outside, if you like, and bless the whole neighborhood!

We don’t need to know how to pray. But we do need to trust the Spirit to pray in ways that are deeper than we understand. We can surrender to the connection God is making with us and others as the light of Jesus floods the world with hope and goodness. The Quakers have specialized in that kind of silent, trusting prayer.  Like they often do, meditate through your acquaintances and spend a good amount of time lifting individuals and whole groups “into the light.” 

January 4 — The eleventh day of Christmas

Today’s Bible reading

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. – Luke 6:12-16

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:31-36

Image result for mother setonMore thoughts for meditation

On the eleventh day of Christmas, many Catholics and Episcopalians honor  Elizabeth Seton (1774–1821), or Mother Seton, who was the first native-born American to be canonized as a saint. [info from the shrine]

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York City on August 28, 1774 to a prominent Episcopal family, and lost her mother at the age of three. In 1794, at the age of 19, Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman with whom she had five children. William died in 1803 of tuberculosis, exacerbated by his financial misfortunes, leaving Elizabeth a young widow. After discovering Catholicism in Italy, where her husband had died after an attempt at convalescence, Elizabeth returned to the United States and entered the Catholic Church in 1805 in New York.

After a number of difficult years, Elizabeth moved in 1809 to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, the first community for religious women established in the United States. She also began St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, planting the seeds of Catholic education in the United States. Her legacy now includes religious congregations in the United States and Canada, whose members work on the unmet needs of people living in poverty in North America and beyond.

Mother Seton, as she is often called, was canonized on Sunday, September 14, 1975 in St. Peter’s Square by Pope Paul VI. Her remains are entombed in Emmitsburg in the Basilica at the National Shrine that bears her name.

Also, according to the song, on the 11th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Eleven pipers piping

The “secret” meaning of the song supposedly notes 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 to the religious leaders and the Romans. Being faithful disciples is a lifelong matter and could be costly, as Elizabeth Seton experienced. On this day, however, it is kind of fun to imagine them marching through as pipers.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Thank you for choosing me. Reassure me of my calling. May I be free to live as my true self in your presence.

Want to learn more about the apostles? Here is a video narrated by a nice British accent. It has some disputable assertions, but is interesting.

Mother Seton was undoubtedly a good woman. However, she may have been canonized because the Roman Catholic Church needed an American saint. Regardless, she models a life of service to oppressed women and the poor. And she represents a person who stuck with her convictions when it was not easy to do so. None of us need to be sainted. But we will have a reputation and a legacy of one kind or another. What is yours? Journal a prayer about that.

January 3 — The tenth day of Christmas

IHS monogram, with kneeling angels, atop the main altar, Church of the Gesù, Rome.

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  — Philippians 2:9-11

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. — Romans 10:13

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. — John 14:14

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. — Acts 2:38

Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.  — Acts 16:8

‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. — Colossians 3:17

More thoughts for meditation

On the 10th day of Christmas, many Christians venerate the holy name of Jesus. Most denominations let this observance occur on one holy day a year, but in the early 1500’s some people devoted every day to the holy name and even built church buildings to emphasize it (as in the picture above). Devotion to and veneration of the IHS monogram, derived from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (and sometimes also interpreted as Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus savior of humankind) dates back to the early days of Christianity, where it was placed on altars and religious vestments, ornaments and other objects.

Here is an evangelical example of praising the name of Jesus 

The literal name “Jesus” is not inherently powerful; it is powerful because of Jesus Christ, the person, God incarnate, who made a way for our salvation.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray in his name: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (in John 14:13-14).  Some misapply this verse, thinking that saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer results in God always granting what is asked for. This is essentially treating the words “in Jesus’ name” as a magic formula. If you have tried it, you know that is not so. We come to God in the name of Jesus like anyone approaches a place that might not open to them if they did not have the proper connections: “Open up in the name of the law!” or “Joe sent me” are other examples. Praying in the name of Jesus shows respect and acknowledges that we come into the presence of God by the work of Jesus. Coming in our own name or in the name of something else could be dangerous to our spiritual health!

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Ten lords a-leaping

We have also been following the popular Christmas carol through Christmastide. Again, the history of the carol is somewhat murky. The earliest known version first appeared in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth With-out Mischief. (A first edition of that book sold for $23,750 at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014). Some historians think the song could be French in origin, but most agree it was designed as a “memory and forfeits” game, in which singers tested their recall of the lyrics and had to award their opponents a “forfeit” — a kiss or a favor of some kind, if they made a mistake. Many variations of the lyrics have existed at different points. Some mention “bears a-baiting” or “ships a-sailing”; some name the singer’s mother as the gift giver instead of their true love.

The idea of the song having secret meanings to help suppressed Catholic children understand the catechism has been well debunked [Snopes got involved]. But we’ve been playing with that, anyway. The ten lords a-leaping could stand for the Ten Commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God’s name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet (Exodus 20:1-17). Why shouldn’t you know the Ten Commandments, anyway?

Suggestions for action

Pray in the name of Jesus: I bow my knee before the name above all names. I repent of my past in your name, Jesus. I call upon your name for my future. Whatever I do, I seek to be worthy of your name.

If you have never memorized the ten commandments, here is your chance.

We are not an “honor” society, and we prize coming in our own name, according to the rights we have as free people whose ancestors have died to give us our freedom. So the subservient humility of today’s readings may be a bit lost on us. We may not receive the honor of coming in Jesus’ name and we may not give it by assuming we can come in any other name, as we choose. Consider what you do when you pray, especially.

January 2 — The ninth day of Christmas

Related image

Today’s Bible reading

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. — Galatians 5:22-26

 More thoughts for meditation

On this day of Christmas many people traditionally celebrate the main members of the radical group known as “the Cappadocians:” Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-379). They both died in January and, as in life, they gravitated together and are remembered together on this day. May we be radical Jesus followers and loving friends as they were! Like in our time, their era was full of partisan controversy and fragile political and church relationships. They not only stuck together, they brought people together.

Basil and his older sister, Macrina, received the best education of the day. Basil was ambitious and decided to become a teacher of rhetoric which would have provided the highest available salary at the time. His sister convinced him that his ambitions would just be replaced by further ambitions. He listened to her, was baptized, simplified his life and worked in the local church. He stayed close to his sister, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, his cousin Amphilochius and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocians).  Within a decade he was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. As bishop, he fought against the Arian heresy and wrote many influential works on the Trinity and the Incarnation, as well as a rule of life for monks that is still used today.

Gregory of Nazianzus, while traveling as a youth, met Basil while studying in Athens. While Basil was determined and impulsive, as well as brilliant and a bit intimidating, Gregory was sensitive, patient and more introverted, and sometimes indecisive. Basil was drawn to public speaking, Gregory to poetry and speculation. But they teamed up for a brilliant teaching series on the Trinity that sealed their public reputations and their friendship.  At one point Basil deceptively pressured Gregory to become a bishop, which he did not want to do. This strained their friendship, but they rebuilt it.

In one of his sermons, Gregory said this about the beginning of their relationship: “When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper… The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning.” When Basil died, this was Gregory’s epitaph: “A body might as well live without a soul, as me without you, Basil, beloved servant of Christ.”

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Nine ladies dancing.

The catechists who were supposedly using “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song to teach persecuted Catholics said these nine ladies represented the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: love,  joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22). These go along with the ambition of Basil’s and Gregory’s life and relationship, don’t they?

Suggestions for action

Memorize the fruits of the Spirit until you can sit back with your eyes closed and meditate on each of them. Which of them calls to you? What would you do in 2021 to gain and live out one of them more fully? Tell one of your spiritual friends about your ambition. Gregory would have written such a person a vulnerable letter.

Both Basil and Gregory got their truest ambition fueled by solitude and study.  Hopefully you have a Macrina in your life to tell you to ramp back your anxious grasping so you can listen for your truest calling. Is there any way to get more time with God into your schedule?

It is a dancing day. Have you ever heard this old carol: Tomorrow  Shall Be My Dancing Day? It is not only interesting, it is a good one to help you twirl around the room a bit with the spirit of nine ladies dancing in the Spirit.  Shake out some coldness of body and heart.

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

It goes on…

Or try this remembrance of COH dances past.

« Older posts