On December 30, our worship used the old song 12 days of Christmas to talk about different aspects of the Christian faith. The worship was adapted from an original collaborative effort by Rev. Katrina Paxson, Rev. Katie Dawson, Rev. Katie Russell, Rev. Stacy Smith, Rev. Katie Dawson, Rev. Amy Fetterman, Rev. Ali Haugerud, and Rev. Liz Kearny through Young Clergy Women International. A common internet letter claims that the 12 days of Christmas was originally composed with hidden Christian meaning. There's no real evidence of that. However, the song is a great way to explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The service was in the style of lessons and carols. Below are the "explanations" Pastor Marc spoke in response to each lesson. You can view a bulletin from worship here.
Lesson One: Jesus Christ
Last week we celebrated the coming of the Christ child – Jesus has been born! Emmanuel - God-with-us - has come! The point of Christmas is that Christmas comes whether we are ready for it or not. And that when Jesus entered the world, he came as a gift for all of us because God’s love couldn’t do anything less. The first gift the singer of the 12 days of Christmas focuses on is also the most important because, if we sung the song in its entirety, we would repeat this part 12 times.
So that’s why we can let the partridge in the pear tree represent Jesus. Jesus, in the piece of Scripture we just read, likened himself to a bird. He claimed to care for us like a mother hen, like a shepherd, as our Savior. And we are reminded of his everlasting gift to us – his death on a cross and resurrection on Easter morning. Jesus is our partridge on his tree.
Lesson Two: The Scriptures
One of the words I use over and over again is “scripture.” And I realize not everyone knows what that word means. “Scripture” is a piece of writing considered sacred to a specific faith tradition. As Christians, our scripture is the Bible and as Lutheran Christians, we separate our scripture into two parts - typically called the Old and New Testament. I tend to use the words “Jewish” and “Christian” scriptures for those two sections because we share parts of our Bible with the Jewish community and the words “old” and “new” can be used as a false dividing line for what part of the Bible is better than the other. Yet the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and how God keeps God’s promises is not limited to only one section, part, or book of our Scriptures.
Now, turtle doves show up often in our Scriptures. It was a dove that Noah sent out to see if there was dry land after the flood. And the cry of the doves has also been used to symbolize grief and mourning. Doves are also mentioned in Song of Solomon as an indicator of new life because they are a migrating species, and they arrive in Judea in the spring. Doves were also offered as sacrifices at the Temple for those who couldn’t afford sheep or goats. Even Mary and Joseph used these small birds as as a thank-offering in the Temple for Jesus’ birth. Doves allowed rich and poor alike to worship God.
Turtle doves are said to commit to each other for life. And so it is fitting that we can use them as a symbol for our Scripture – for the joining of the Testaments, of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, into one Bible. We continue to read these testaments together because they share how God’s love is one continuous story - and that this story continues today.
Lesson Three: Gold, Frankincense, and Myr
In our Bible, the number 3 is a holy number. Many journeys, like Jonah’s stay in the whaled, lasted 3 days and visions given to ancient prophets came in threes. As Christians, we understand God to be a Trinity - a Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit - and we spend 3 days every year living into the moments when Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.
During this season of Christmas, we are remember the three gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These unique presents were not random items, but demonstrated who the Magi believed Jesus would become. Gold was reserved for the royal or the divine and proclaimed the birth of the King of Kings. Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and was used in priestly worship. The myrrh invokes bitterness and suffering, showing us how God came to be with us through the entirety of our lives, and how God takes us on a journey through death and into life.
Lesson 4: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
The four calling birds can represent the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—which tell the stories of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. But the concluding verse of the Gospel of John says that these books are not sufficient; that the works of Jesus are so numerous, they cannot be contained in any book. Indeed, as Christians we proclaim that the incarnation means God is loose in our world--the work of Jesus is still being done. The Gospels cannot contain Jesus’ entire story because the story is, right now, still being written! Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not the only ones called to cry out the Good News of Jesus Christ - we are too.
Lesson 5: The Torah
Those of us who love to spend the Christmas break re-watching all of The Lord of the Rings movies, might associate five golden rings with power, control, and domination. We might imagine that the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that these five golden rings can represent, point to a controlling and powerful God who gave us harsh laws to follow. We might think that Jesus is, somehow, a more loving God than the God in the Torah. But the Torah, the law of Moses, is not about constraint. Rather, the law of Moses is a gift, telling people how they can live in a life-giving relationship with God and with each other. The Torah is an invitation for us to be less focused on ourselves and, instead, to experience what God’s freedom is all about. God gives us a law to follow, showing us what evil is, and as our friend Sam tells us in the Lord of the Rings, the Torah shows us the good that’s “worth fighting for.”
Lesson 6: 6 days of Creation
When we think of eggs, we usually think of Easter. But these geese busy laying eggs represent new life, just like eggs do at Easter time. This new life points us to a God who is always busy creating it, including the six days of creation, when God created all that is, and was, and will be. The six loud, squawking, excitable geese can represent the beautiful chaos of God’s creation and the new life we find in Christ.
Lesson 7: 7 Gifts of the Spirit
Every year since 1984, a group of economists have figured out how much it costS to buy all the things on the “Twelve Days of Christmas” list. It’s called the Christmas Price Index and its used to measure inflation and the increasing costs of certain goods. In 2018 eto buy/hire/and use everything on this song’s list, would cost you $39,094.93. That’s...a lot. And the most expensive item, by far, is the swans. Seven swans, swimming or just sunning themselves on the shore, will cost you $13,125. They’re the most precious items in the whole song - and that reminds us of just how precious the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are gifts given to us freely by a loving God - and when we hold tight to these kinds of gifts over anything else money can by, our lives become the precious way we love God and our neighbors.
Lesson 8: 8 Beatitudes
When young maids, or unmarried women, were asked to “go-a-milking,” wedding bells were on the horizon! It was an invitation to join your heart with another and to forever be changed.
In many ways, the Beatitudes are that same kind of invitation. These eight statements of Jesus from a sermon recorded in the gospel according to Matthew teach us how we can love God and our neighbor in such a way that will are forever changed. We can look at these beatitudes and split them into two different categories: we are blessed by being and we are blessed by doing. The first few beatitudes remind us there are circumstances we face in life that we might not have any control over - including hunger, grief, or oppression. God comes to us in those moments and reminds us we are not alone. But the second half of these blessings are an invitation to share God’s love with others. This Christmas, we remember that not only has Christ entered our lives right where we are, but that He also invites us to join our hearts together so that we can help change the world.
Lesson 9: 9 Fruits of the Spirit
The nine fruits of the Spirit, divine gifts made real in us, join with these 9 ladies in their dance. Together, the gifts dance in and through us, moving our feet, our hands, our bodies, our hearts in a holy rhythm. We are called to join in, and to move our bodies in ways filled with loving and humble service.
Lesson 10: The Ten Commandments
During the time of the Exodus, when the people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, their leader, Moses, met God face to face on a mountain. God, through Moses, offered to the people, a promise and a relationship that was so special that the people of Israel could, after that, only be called as “chosen.” As a part of that relationship, God gave the people of Israel and us, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are more than just a list of “thou shall nots…” they are a sign of who we are—God’s people, God’s chosen people—people who live differently because of who God is and what God has done for us. God intended the Ten Commandments to be a promise that would last for all of God’s people forever.
Lesson 11: First 11 faithful apostles
The eleven pipers piping remind us of the eleven disciples who saw Jesus at the mountain after his resurrection and went forth into the world to share the music of the Gospel. These eleven disciples were sent out into the world to make disciples of all nations, to baptize those who put their weight down on Jesus, and to teach the world all the things Jesus had taught them.
These disciples were not considered faithful because they were freed from questions or doubt. Indeed, the text we just read from the end of the gospel of Matthew reminds us that even with the risen Lord stood in front of them, “some doubted”. And they’re weren’t considered faithful because they always understood everything Jesus said. Throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one of the storylines consistent through all of them is that the disciples don’t get it. And now, standing on the mountain with Jesus, they still don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Yet we call them faithful because they do two things: they show up and they go where God sends them next. They showed up at the place Jesus promised to be, on that mountain top, and when Jesus said, “go,” they went.
We join these eleven by showing up here on Sunday mornings, at the place Jesus has promised to meet us. May we also join these eleven pipers piping as we go out into the world to share the song of Christ’s all-pursuing love.
Lesson 12: The 12 Points of the Apostles’ Creed
The Apostles’ Creed is something we say most weeks in worship but we might not know exactly why we do. A creed is a statement of faith representing the basics of what we teach. And I say what we teach because we might not always understand or believe or trust what we’re asked to say. There are days when we’ll feel close to Jesus and others when we’ll wonder if the Holy Spirit is missing from our lives. The Creed isn’t limited to what we believe. Rather, it’s an invitation to see all of God’s promises even when we don’t understand them. The Apostles’ Creed can be broken into 12 parts and legend says that 12 apostles’ each contributed a part to it. But this is a legend because the Apostles’ Creed as we have it wasn’t finalized until the 8th century. But a version of hits creed has been used for almost two thousand years, showing us how we are always connected to something bigger than ourselves. Our faith doesn’t depends on us. Rather, our faith is a gift from God. And when we remember all the gifts God gives us, we grow in trust, knowing that the God who was born to a woman named Mary is the same God who is always with us, even in our doubts and questions. And so, as a way of remembering who God is for us, let us now stand as we are able, and confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
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