12 Days of Christmas


“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . twelve drummers drumming . . .”

And so we come to day twelve (I hope you have enjoyed this simple, songly trek with me) and look for twelve things to bring to our minds our Savior. Could we look to the twelve tribes of Israel? Certainly it would be a biblical solution. Perhaps the apostles–but we’ve discussed them, their number, and their replacement on day eleven. And so, if tradition be minded (and what should we do but mind tradition?) our drummers would be the twelve tenets of the Apostles’ Creed beating out a cadence to call men to Christ.

  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, (one quick note would remind us that this is not the Roman Catholic Church per se, but the universal “catholic” Church–the body of Christ, which includes the early Roman expression, but is not limited by denominational boundaries)
  9. the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and life everlasting.

And so, let us sing with all gusto today:On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, Twelve Drummers (the Apostles’ Creed) drumming, Eleven Pipers (the faithful apostles) piping, Ten Lords (the Decalogue) a-leaping, Nine Ladies (the fruit of the Spirit) dancing, Eight Maids (the Beatitudes) a-milking, Seven Swans (the gifts of the Spirit) a-swimming, Six Geese (the days of Creation) a-laying, Five Gold Rings (the Pentateuch), Four Calling Birds (the Gospel accounts), Three French Hens (the theological Virtues), Two Turtledoves (the Testaments,  Old and New), and a Partridge (Christ the Lord) in a pear tree.

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . .  eleven Pipers piping . . . ”

In his earthly ministry, as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ walked about and made God’s plan a reality for us all, he chose Twelve. These Twelve walked with him, following him, soaking in his every word and deed. Learning. Expecting. Believing. One of the Twelve did the unthinkable – Judas Iscariot not only denied and abandoned Jesus (as all the others did in his hour of most need), but he also betrayed the Lord into the hands of those who desired Christ’s destruction. All of this was part of the plan that would provide salvation for those of us to follow.

But our Pipers, who play the song of Truth for all of history to hear and then sing, are the Eleven who returned–those who remained faithful following the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. The Eleven are those who received the Great Commission just prior to Jesus ascension, and bear for us an example and a message to carry on. (Please take note that the aforementioned Judas Iscariot is excluded for the reasons stated, but also that his replacement, a disciple named Matthias, is also excluded–this allows us to keep the number at eleven.)

Named (from Luke’s account of the Gospel) they are:

  1. Simon, called Peter (so renamed by Christ because of the disciple’s faith),
  2. Andrew, his brother,
  3. James, the son of Zebedee (one of the Sons of Thunder),
  4. John, his brother, “the Disciple that Jesus Loved,”
  5. Philip, who led an Ethiopian Eunuch to Christ on a barren road, and thus paving the way for an entire nation to hear the message of Salvation,
  6. Bartholomew,
  7. Matthew, also known as Levi, a tax collector,
  8. Thomas, who needed proof (much like Christians today),
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus,
  10. Simon, the Zealot, and
  11. Judas, the son of James.

Let us be disciples in their fashion, sharing Jesus to the ends of the earth.

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . ten lords a-leaping . . .”

As we get closer to the end of our song, our lists get longer. That’s why as we get closer to the twelfth day (Twelfth Night, if you will), we find more and more fodder from my sermon bin. Yes, you guessed it, I have a series of sermons built on our ten lords, just as I have on the nine ladies and the eight maids. Let me start by quoting the unknown wag who likes to wax poetic on behalf of the Almighty and said, “God did not call them the ‘Ten Suggestions.'”

So by now, you know that our ten leaping lords are none other than the Ten Commandments. Far from the Charlton Heston film of yesteryear, the Decalogue (that’s your big word for the day), best remembered from the Exodus 20 listing, are first of all given to help us act justly in our daily lives. They were not intended to give politicians and lawyers something to fight over in court. Nor were they designed to give Pharisees (preacher-types) of old, and red-faced evangelicals (preacher-types) of today a way to “lord” it over those who didn’t abide by them. (Notice how I played on the word “lord” there?)

No, these Ten Commandments, when properly used, do two things: First, they point out our short-comings as the humans that we are, teaching us how to behave before God and between one another. Secondly, they emphasize (because we can’t really keep them forever) our dire need for the Savior who is Jesus Christ.

Rather than list and re-list the ten lords here, I’ll just quote you (and just for fun, I’ll use the beautiful Shakespearean language found in the translation authorized by King James of England in the sixteen hundreds):

 1And God spake all these words, saying,

2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13Thou shalt not kill.

14Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15Thou shalt not steal.

16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

 

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . nine ladies dancing . . .”

Once again we turn to St. Paul to give us our list of “ladies”:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV)

In this short passage, one that follows Paul’s non-exhaustive list of the works of the flesh which battle against this fruit of the Spirit, the missionary gives to us the kind of characteristics that are prominent in the life of a Christian. These are the fruit (not fruits) of the Spirit which tells us a couple of things. First, since it is not plural, the items mentioned are varieties of the same thing (not separate thing altogether); and second, they are inter-related and may separately be the manifestation at various times of Christ’s Spirit in the life of an individual, depending upon circumstance.

As most evangelical preachers, I have a series of sermons dedicated to studying each variety of the fruit, while trying to remember that they are all but one. I’ve heard others’ (or portions of others’) series which have been creatively named with wit and audacity things like: Juicy Fruit (a personal favorite) and Tasty. Even now, I’m in the process of preparing the manuscript version of my own sermon series entitled Be Fruitful. In any case, you should be able to find adequate discussion of the fruit of the Spirit almost anywhere. And when you do you will find:

  1. Love — self-giving, selfless, unlimited, unqualified, and unequaled love,
  2. Joy — unhindered, unmitigated joy full and overflowing,
  3. Peace — not the absence of strife, but rather the presence of calm that knows no understanding,
  4. Patience — endurance in the most trying of circumstances (whatever happened to that superb Shakespearean/KJV word “longsuffering”?),
  5. Kindness — even when others are not kind. This benevolence takes root and reins in us,
  6. Faithfulness — through thick and thin, good and bad, or as we often repeat in modern wedding vows in our western civilization, “for better,  for worse; in sickness and in health; for richer, for poorer; until death alone should part us,”
  7. Goodness — more than just nice or polite, but truly good. Good that comes from and imitates God (from whom goodness springs), good,
  8. Gentleness — finding that loving, tender touch with which to address all problems. It’s more than just tact (although most of us could learn some more of that), it is a calming spirit with which to approach all situations as a mother would comfort her child, and
  9. Self-control — last in the list because it is the most difficult for us to wrangle, getting control of ourselves. How nice it is that this is another affectation of the Spirit of God (who is actually in control and not us) dwelling in our lives.

So, let the fruit of the Spirit bud, blossom, emerge and ripen in your life. To do so, you must have the Spirit working within your life, so let Him. And in the meantime watch and wait patiently for Be Fruitful to hit the book stores (but don’t hold your breath).

“On the eighth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . eight maids a-milking . . . ”

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus begins His teaching (historically called the Sermon on the Mount) by teaching us the “attitudes” that His followers will have–the Beatitudes:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

Each of these is a blessing. For those who need the list of eight, here you go:

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit
  2. Blessed are those who mourn
  3. Blessed are the meek
  4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  5. Blessed are the merciful
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers, and
  8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

I have gone into detail about the reason each of these is a blessing and fullness of that blessing elsewhere. To be succinct, you will know that God is at work in when these “eight maids” become evidence of who you are.

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . seven swans a-swimming . . .”

While I am not really that big into lists (I rarely get around to writing, much less doing, a to-do list), we are in the middle of a listing song. So here is a list: Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed in the Scripture (see Romans 12:6-8, and reference 1 Corinthians 12:8-11) –

  1. Prophecy — proclaiming a word from the Lord
  2. Ministry — pointedly going and doing in the name of the Lord
  3. Teaching — exposing and explaining the Word of God
  4. Exhortation — encouraging the proper discipleship of Jesus
  5. Giving — generosity with the blessings the Lord has bestowed, for His sake
  6. Leading — showing the way of righteousness through example, and
  7. Compassion — true care for the needs of those around us.

As Paul listed the gifts of the Spirit, they were not intended to necessarily be an exhaustive list, but exemplary–teaching us that when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we will be gifted by Him. Exercise your gifts that characterize you as a part of the Kingdom, and do so daily for the glory of God.

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . six geese a-laying . . .”

In (the) beginning, God created the heavens and the earth . . .

God took six days to do His creative work and then rested. These six days (the six laying geese) point us to Christ’s creativity in the lives of His followers. On this sixth day of Christmas, think about:

  1. God’s creativity
  2. Christ’s creativity
  3. The creativity with which He has endowed you.

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