Preaching: Diana Ziegler
Date Presented: Sunday, January 1, 2017
Scripture Reference: I John 4:11-16, Matthew 2:6-11
Sermon: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Look around, doesn’t it look like it’s still Christmas? Didn’t we already do Christmas? Wasn’t that last week? Why are people still singing Christmas carols? And especially why are they singing the 12 days of Christmas?
Aren’t the 12 days of Christmas over? We celebrated the Christ child’s birth… yeah! Good! We’re done! Now, let’s move on (heavy sigh)…
Unfortunately, many of us feel that way by the time Christmas day arrives. The stress of the holidays, the extra effort and energy put forth to show people we care about them – which, by the way, shouldn’t be “extra” we should do that all year; but that’s a topic for a different message… Many of us reach Christmas day exhausted – but the celebration has truly just begun! We know there are 12 days of Christmas. We even have that song that helps us remember that. When I was a kid, I thought the 12 days of Christmas ended on Christmas day – that’s the big day of celebration so that must be what this all led up to right? Well, like many others, I was wrong.
As of this morning, and depending who you ask, we have passed through the first 6 days of Christmas with the 26th being the 1st day of Christmas. Others say that Christmas day is the first day of Christmas — Either way you look at it, we’re not done yet… For today, I’m going to say we have completed 6 days, today is the 7th and there are 12 days of Christmas – just like the song says. And today we are going to take a much closer look at this song…
Many people believe (and some actually insist) that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a form of teaching the Christian faith.
My questions included: What do Partridges, French hens, and maids-a-milking have to do with this Christian holiday?
That’s what I want to look at with you today…
Those who believe this song is Catechism, tell us that the song “The Twelve days of Christmas” was developed by Catholics in the 16th century as a way to teach children their parents beliefs. At this time, practicing Catholicism was illegal. Catholicism survived in secret congregations. Priests were trained and ordained in other countries, and upon returning to England, were liable to be thrown into prison and even risked being executed. For hundreds of years, teaching Catholicism was risky! And so, to teach children their beliefs, the story goes that Catholics created this song – The Twelve Days of Christmas. Children would sing this song to profess their forbidden faith. Each of the gifts given by the “true love” – God Himself – carried a hidden meaning that all Catholic children came to know and understand.
For example, on the first day of Christmas there was a gift of a Partridge in a pear tree. The partridge represents Jesus. The partridge is known to be a very protective bird and will sacrifice its own life to save its young. As we know, Jesus is also very protective and actually did sacrifice his life to save us—the partridge is a good choice.
On the first day of Christmas – my true love (God himself) gave to me, A partridge in a pear tree – He gave me Jesus!
(sing) “On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… (this is a semi-interactive sermon, you need to sing along) Two Turtle Doves”
The two doves represent the Old and the New Testaments. These books together tell the story of God to the world. His history, His self-revelation, the creation of a people who would tell this story. The Old and New Testaments combine to create our Bible, the book of hope, prayer, and answers, all told in this story of God.
In all actuality, the 2nd day of Christmas is a time when we feel like we can finally “breathe” after all the hustle, bustle, stress, and anxiety that can often accompany a multi-faceted holiday… The Bible is a tool that helps us do just that.
(sing) “On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… Three French Hens”
What is there three of in the Christian faith – the triune God? The holy trinity? Perhaps, and not a bad idea… but history tells us that the three French hens represent the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. We hear about these virtues in the book of Corinthians. 1Corinthians 13:13 “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” Thank you Lord for your generosity – for these three.
(sing) “On the 4th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Four Calling Birds”
The four birds are stated to be in reference to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I thought the fact that we were given “calling birds” was relevant to the hidden profession of faith. You know, “calling birds” must somehow connect to the words of the gospel “calling” us to Him right? I was pretty impressed with myself for figuring that one out, but turns out I was wrong. All my research tells me that the type of bird being sent seems to be irrelevant as at different times the song made reference to different birds. Although there were always four birds, sometimes they were canary birds, other times they were mockingbirds, and in an earlier version of the song, they were Colly birds. which is a term for the English blackbird. No matter what species, there were still four – and four is said to represent the four gospels…
(sing) “On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… Five golden rings”
In the legendary tale that this song is one of Christian education, these 5 golden rings refer to the Pentateuch or the Book of Laws, or the Torah – the book of Jewish faith – The first Five Books of the Old Testament:
The first golden ring is the book of Genesis, – The book of Beginnings. The beginning, when God promised through Abram to bless all the nations. The beginning truly is golden…
The second golden ring is the book of Exodus – The Book of Redemption, whose theme and purpose we see in the deliverance of the people from the bondage of Egypt. We see this in the Exodus out of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. The people were redeemed.
The 3rd golden ring, the book of Leviticus – The great theme of Leviticus is Holiness. Leviticus 11:45 says “Be holy, because I am holy.”; and 20:7-8 “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. And you shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Holiness is indeed golden…
The 4th ring is the book of Numbers – The Book of Wilderness Wanderings. This book shows us that while life does have its “wilderness” experiences, God’s people do NOT have to stay in those conditions. We see throughout the book of Numbers God’s continual care for his people. Regardless of their unbelief or their rebellion, He continued to supply their needs: water, manna, and quail – He continued to love and forgive them even as they rebelled against him. How much more “golden” could we ask for?
And the 5th golden ring is said to be the book of Deuteronomy – the Book of Reiteration and Reviewing. The theme here is “Watch yourself lest you forget”
Deut. 4: 1-8 “Then Moses said to the people, “Obey all the laws that I am teaching you, and you will live and occupy the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add anything to what I command you, and do not take anything away. Obey the commands of the Lord your God that I have given you. 3 You yourselves saw what the Lord did at Mount Peor. He destroyed everyone who worshiped Baal there, 4 but those of you who were faithful to the Lord your God are still alive today.”
Here, through Moses’ teachings, there truly is a review of what has been happening and a reiteration of what is expected.
These books tell the history of humanity’s sinful failure and of God’s response of grace as he created us, the people, to be a light to the world – to bring forth His story, and to see the value of the golden rule which he has laid out for us in these first 5 books of the Bible.
This brings us to the 6th day of Christmas…
(sing) “On the 6th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Six Geese A-laying.”
As I was researching this song, I could not for the life of me figure out what Six Geese A-laying could possible reference in the Christian faith! Were they laying a path for us to follow? Was it in reference to new life – you know, egg, new life…? To understand the 6th day of Christmas, we need to look at the book of Genesis. What is significant about the number 6 in Genesis? Right at the beginning in Genesis 1:1-26 is the story of creation. As a lesson in the Christian faith, each of those 6 geese represent one of the 6 days of creation. As God lay out the world as we know it… each goose lay an egg…
And now, the 7th day of Christmas. On this day (sing) “my true love gave to me… seven swans a swimming”
Seven swans – seven beautiful swans… and they represent the seven beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit. These seven gifts include: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion. Each gift has its place in creating, maintaining, and growing in faith. Each gift is given to the person who can best use that gift to bring people to God and help them to become followers of Jesus Christ.
On the 7th day of Christmas, if we are to heed the tradition, or the legend, that a Christmas song provides us with teachings that are important to our faith, to our spiritual journey, to our growth as good Christian stewards, then we must heed the gift(s) afforded us by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you are not sure what your spiritual gift is – THAT’S OKAY! God, in his time, in his use of the Holy Spirit, provides us with the gifts we will need to proclaim His glory and share His word. We know this to be true as John stated in our reading today “… He has given us of his Spirit”. God allows us to recognize and acknowledge those gifts when we are ready to truly claim ownership of His offering.
(sing) “On the 8th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Eight Maids a-milking”
The 8 maids a-milking are stated to be in reference to the eight Beatitudes which are found in the book of Matthew 5:3-10 where we are told that
*The kingdom of heaven belongs to the spiritually poor
*God will comfort those who mourn
*The humble will receive what God has promised
*God will fully satisfy those whose greatest desire is to do what He requires
*God will be merciful to those who show mercy to others
*Those who are pure in heart will see God
*Those who work for peace will be called God’s children
*The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.
The Beatitudes – maids milking – each bringing forth what we need in order to be: strong in body, mind, and soul.
(sing) “On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… nine ladies dancing”
Ladies dancing just sounds so joyful doesn’t it? What a great sense of happiness we have when we just start to dance! Am I right? There is reason in our Christian faith that the 9th day is represented in this way. Let’s look at Galatians 5:22 -23. “…the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 humility, and self-control.” Each of these nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit bring us only closer to the Godliness we all strive for – the Godliness that HE wants us to live. The nine ladies dancing representing the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit… it makes sense, doesn’t it?!
(sing) “On the 10th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… 10 Lords a leaping”
This one is kind of easy – well sort of – well maybe not easy, but once I tell you then it’s easy… The ten lords a leaping are representative of the Ten commandments as laid out to us in Exodus 10:1-17. I won’t read that passage here, you know most – if not all – of the commandments by heart. But I will offer that God has given us these ten rules to live by, ten ways to live that propel us into being who God intended us to be.
Ten rules that propel, ten lords that leap…
This leads us right to the 11th day of Christmas when “my true love sent to me… Eleven Pipers Piping.”
How many of you remember the story of the Pied Piper? That’s the story where a musician was able to play his flute just right and was able to lure all the rats out of the city of Hamelin in Germany. As the story goes, he was also able to get the children of Hamelin to follow him. The power of the pipers song is akin to the power of the eleven faithful Apostles (Judas Iscariot, the 12th apostle, is not included in this list as he became the traitor and betrayed Jesus to the Romans) the eleven Faithful Apostles can be found listed in Luke 6:14-16. These 11 were able to tell the story of Jesus, the story of God, and gain followers of Jesus Christ.
And finally, (sing) “On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… 12 drummers drumming”
The 12 drummers are said to represent the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ creed is a very concise summary of the Christian faith. We recite this creed at various times throughout the year, and I believe it is appropriate to do so now. As we recite, I want you to really hear the words, if that is easier for you to do by simply listening, then by all means do NOT feel obligated to voice these words audibly. You will find the Creed up on the screen and note that I have marked each of the 12 points of doctrine for your consideration. Please join me, or simply listen now as I read the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth. (1)
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, (2)
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
born of the Virgin Mary, (3)
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead. (4)
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father (5)
and will come again to judge the living and the dead. (6)
I believe in the Holy Spirit, (7)
the holy catholic church, (8)
the communion of saints, (9)
the forgiveness of sins, (10)
the resurrection of the body, (11)
and the life everlasting. (12)
As I end this examination of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, it is important to remember where this started. Where ALL of this started… It all started on the eve of that first day, when Christ was born and the Angels appeared to the lowliest of us all – the shepherds were the first to hear of His birth.