Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Twelve Days of Christmas (Page 2 of 6)

January 1 — The eighth day of Christmas

Illustration in the Menologion of Basil II (c. 980)

Today’s Bible reading

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. —  Luke 2:21

In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. – Colossians 2:11-15

More thoughts for meditation

New Year’s Day is also, among other things, the traditional Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. As today’s reading notes, on the eighth day after his birth, Joseph and Mary  had Jesus circumcised in line with the command given to Abraham to do this as a sign of the covenant God made with him and his descendants. On this occasion Jesus was given the name the angel Gabriel had given Mary: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” The circumcision of Jesus was first time Jesus shared humanity’s suffering as he was made part of the people of Israel, subject to the Law of Moses.

But as the second of today’s readings shows, the “eighth day” has a larger meaning that includes all of us in a new “circumcision.” The resurrection of Jesus was the first day of the renewal of creation!—”He is risen” echoes “Let there be light.” Jesus rose on the first day of the week which became the first day of the new creation. This first day coincides with the day of the week he was circumcised, the eighth day.

Paul makes meaning out of how these days go together. Like Jesus lost some foreskin to be made a member of the Old Covenant, all of us who are raised with Jesus lose the record of our sin, kept by the law. What’s more, we lose the domination of the rule of evil, kept at bay by the Lord’s triumph. We live in a New Covenant. From the blade to his foreskin to the blade in his side, the blood of Jesus we drink makes us one with him as he became one with us.  We lose our death and are remade alive in Christ. This is the main reason we keep the first day special each week. It is the first day when Christ rose, but it is also the eighth day when we, and creation, were born again and named the children of God.

This wonder is especially good news for the poor, who always get the worst treatment by the law and the rulers. It is the poor who enter the children’s song we have been exploring on this day: On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me…Eight maids a-milking. Eight maids is an odd present and watching them milk would make an odd parade float. It implies a herd which requires a lot of servants; so that is quite a gift!

In the “secret” meaning of the song, the catechists were supposedly teaching children to remember the eight “beatitudes” (Matthew 5:3-10):  Blessed are 1) the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

At the time this ditty was written, there was no job much lower than working in the barn. A female servant used as a milker meant she did not have much value to her master.  But as today’s reading shows, she has a master who values her with his very life! Jesus disarms the authorities and the poor are especially blessed. Today they lead the Christmas parade.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Jesus the poor and Jesus the risen, lead me into the fullness of the eighth day.

I love the idea of memorizing the beatitudes. Have you ever done that?

The first day/eighth day symbolism is rich. In an era when capitalism runs 24/7 and doesn’t really care what day it is, we lose the rhythm of the earth and our own bodies. We don’t keep the weekly marker of the Sabbath and often lose the value of holy days and seasons. Today might be a good day (or at least sometime this week) to mark the calendar with the times you don’t want to miss this year. This could include the birthdays of your friends and family, but it would certainly include the birthday of Jesus and the new creation! How about organizing the coming year around your life in Christ as a member of the body rather than trying to fit that meaning into your “time off?”

Be poor: a helpless baby being cut according to an arbitrary principle, a milkmaid stuck in the barn, a human accosted by the rulers of the air and the age. Those are the kind of people who get saved. Be risen. Be saved.

December 31 — The seventh day of Christmas

“Gift of God Bar” by Jean Lacy

Today’s Bible reading

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right. – Romans 5:15-19 (The Message paraphrase)

More thoughts for meditation

There is probably not a more “pagan” holiday than New Year’s Eve (not that some Christians don’t try to redeem it). If you are likely to go off some deep end, it might be wise to avoid tonight. If you feel strong enough to have some fun with the national celebration of making it through 2021, enjoy!

As a day in the church year the 7th day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Sylvester, who was Emperor Constantine’s buddy and the pope who presided over the church becoming legitimate in the Roman Empire, along with managing some major building projects! [Irish video] The church calendar does not have a slot for New Year’s Eve or Day, that would more likely be Easter, if you need one — there’s a beginning to celebrate! The traditional church calendar begins with Advent.

In Europe, some places call New Year’s Eve “Silvester.” In several languages New Year’s Eve is known as “St. Sylvester Night” (“Notte di San Silvestro” in Italian, “Silvesternacht” in German, “Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre” in French).

Sylvester was leading the church when the Arian heresy came to a head [link to video about Arianism]. During Sylvester’s time, the church held big meetings of its leaders to clarify their theology in relation to Greek/Roman philosophy about how Jesus could be God and not just another created being.

Many people are content to leave the “how?” of the Trinity mostly to mystery and deal with the “fact” of relating to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul is looking through the Jesus lens, not the metaphysical lens, when he says in today’s reading, “If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” That is experience-based arguing.

The undeserved gift of grace from love that transcends understanding is what Christmas is all about. So, it is appropriate that the “secret” meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas says for this day, On the 7th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… seven swans a-swimming. 

In terms of extravagant gifts, seven swans would definitely be what rich people have gliding regally in their private lakes. When the carol was written, most people considered swans to be the most graceful and beautiful fowl of all. Supposedly, the Catholic catechists who were forbidden to teach publicly said the seven swans represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God (others take elements of Bible lists to make the main seven gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy). Regardless of your list, the idea is to enjoy these gifts of grace moving in your life like a swan on a pond.

Suggestions for action

Pray: God gifting yourself in Jesus, I receive you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Arians who believe that Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God. They specifically argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.  Our era tends to solve the problems of heresies and pluralism, in general, by ignoring people or saying everything is fine as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. But our view of God matters. Your view may not be too metaphysical, but what is it? How do you see God, when you are just reacting, not thinking real hard? May I suggest a Jesus lens, regardless?

Answer this question from the reading today: “Can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” Journal what you are imagining. If you grasp the gift with both hands, what will that mean in 2021? 

December 30 — The sixth day of Christmas

Image result for the holy family

“The Holy Family” (2007) by Janet McKenzie

Today’s Bible reading

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. – Luke 2:15-16

More thoughts for meditation

Today’s reading provides the picture of the iconic family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Almost everyone, Christian or not, has seen a  painting or a card depicting that family. In Catholic culture, this central family is celebrated today with the Feast of the Holy Family. This day is designed to focus everyone on spirituality in the family.

In Western Christianity, this veneration for the Holy Family as a group, did not arise until the 1600’s and was not officially recognized until the feast day was formally instituted in 1921. This was also about the time the phrase “nuclear family” was coined to define the basic, normal family grouping in a capitalist society. The feast was originally celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany but was moved to the Sunday after Christmas in 1969, to bring it within the Christmas season, the most family-oriented season of the year.

Both the Catholics and Protestants have been obsessed with the health of the family as Eurocentric capitalism has done all it could to fracture it in the name of enriching it. The Church’s focus has often left unmarried people, people from broken or foster homes,  and people who don’t fit into hetero-normative relationships feeling like second-class members of the Church, all the while Jesus never marrying and Paul suggesting it might be better if one did not.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to have a very “fertile” day in the midst of the Christmas celebration. It is, after all, a celebration of miraculous conception and the birth of the Son of God! The incarnation overturns the propensity of spiritual people to long to be without a body by affirming the goodness of the body as a fitting place for God to dwell and affirming the miraculous experience of sexual ecstasy, conception and birth. The incarnation is all about reclaiming and restoring the good, reproducing creation.

So the song we have been including in our Christmastide prayer makes a lot of sense on this day. On the 6th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… six geese a-laying.

In the “secret” meaning of the song the six geese and their eggs represent the six days in which the Lord made the world. So it is an apt verse for today because 1) The language used to describe the beginning of creation  in Genesis 1 is related to a bird brooding over her eggs. 2) It is good to put our celebration of procreation in a song, since Job 38 asks where we-who-question-God’s-goodness were “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly children of God shouted for joy?” These angelic “morning stars” appeared in the heavens again to shepherds when Jesus was born and again sang for joy over the new creation.  Advent was all about “brooding” and Christmastide is all about the joy of birth.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Open the eyes of my heart so I can see what you have done and sing for joy over the new creation.

Christians often look askance at people who can’t love their families. So let’s assume you have already considered how that area of your life is goinghow you relate to mom and dad, how you are a mom or dad, and whether you live as a beloved child of God. If not, pause here.

Let’s spend some time singing with the morning stars. Recall one of the Christmas songs that have now stopped playing wherever religious songs are still played. Let it play over and over in your mind or in your ears, until you stop resisting it and go with its joy. “Joy to the World” is a good choice. Let it impregnate you with some goodness. Here are suggestions for new carols to move with which might not be in your repertoire: The Huron Carol. Tu scendi dalle stella. Daystar Carol.

December 29 — The fifth day of Christmas

Image result for thomas becket

The Murder of Thomas Becket,  hand-painted woodcut.

Today’s Bible reading

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
 They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright. — Psalm 20:7-8 [Here it is in song]

More thoughts for meditation

The fifth day of Christmas is also a time to remember the faith of Thomas Becket (1118-1170), the archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred for his defense of the rights of the church against King Henry II. (5 minute biography) (T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” as a 1951 film).

Like yesterday’s Feast of the Holy Innocents, this day adds the somber foundation for Christmastide, since every incarnation of God’s grace has an opponent waiting to kill it.

The church and the burgeoning idea of the “state” vied for power in Europe as it emerged from centuries of reorganization after the fall of the Roman Empire. Periodically, a leader would have an actual debate about the theology of the matter with some kind of spiritual conviction instead of just managing his power in order to expand it. Once he was made the leader of the English church, Becket surprised King Henry II with his new set of convictions. Like the surprising Oscar Romero who stood up against U.S.-sponsored death squads and unjust government soldiers, Becket was murdered in his own church building.

Becket had more influence as a martyr than a leader. Within years, King Henry was making public penance at his very popular shrine and pilgrim destination.

It is not without merit that On the 5th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Five Gold Rings. For two centuries after the Reformation, the Catholic structure of the Church was repressed in England, especially. The legend has grown up that, in the spirit of Becket, catechists used this children’s songs to defiantly teach their polity.

Purportedly, the gift on the fifth day “secretly” represents the Torah, the central five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The gift of these books reminds the singer of humanity’s fall from grace and of God’s response by creating a people to be a light to the world into which THE Light of the World would be born.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Guide me on the difficult path of discernment and trust

Christians often talk a good game when it comes to “speaking truth to power” but we mostly keep to ourselves. We even have problems talking to each other! So we can get locked into going with whatever the latest graceless thing the government is doing, even acting as if political power is all that matters. This day calls us to change our perspective.

Pray with your journal and ask the Lord to show you what you actually trust. It might be the fear-led defenses that protect you from experiencing lack of trust! It may be some substitute for God that promises safety in a troubling world. It may be yourself. “Who or what do you actually trust?” is a basic question we all need to answer, right?

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