Friday, December 28, 2012

Twelve Days of Christmas

Because my birthday falls on January 6th, which is Epiphany, I began researching the twelve days leading up to that date. These twelve days are commonly known as The Twelve Days of Christmas. Yes, the twelve days of Christmas come AFTER Christmas, not before. The season before Christmas is known as Advent, which us a time of preparation for the coming of the Savior. Christmas begins on December 25, and lasts through Twelfth Night on the evening of January 5th. January 6th begins the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Christ's manifestation to the world as the Son of God and the Savior, beginning with the visit of the Magi.

1. Christmas day was the First Day of Christmas, when God (our true Love) sent his one and only Son to become atonement for our sins (much like a partridge in a pear tree, who is known to feign injury to decoy predators and protect her helpless nestlings).

2. The Second Day of Christmas - In Catholicism this is also known as the Feast of St. Stephen, and is celebrated by giving leftovers of the Christmas feast to the poor as described in the carol "Good King Wenceslas." In relation to the song, we can view this as the day when our true Love gave us two turtle doves, that is, the two Testaments, old and new, that proclaim the word of God. Turtle doves are often used to represent devout love and faithfulness. When Jesus was brought to the temple to be consecrated after his birth, two turtle doves were sacrificed in accordance with the Law of Moses.

3. The Third Day of Christmas - This is the day when our True love gave to us three French hens, which can be viewed as the Three Theological Virtues. These three virtues are faith, hope, and love - but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)

4. The Fourth Day of Christmas - On this day our True love gives to us four calling birds (or colly, in the original English tradition). These birds represent the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Today is also the Feast of the Innocents, which remembers the thousands of children who were slaughtered by Herod in his fearful search for the one who was prophesied about. This event is commemorated in the well-known Coventry Carol.

5. The 5th Day of Christmas - Today our gift from our True Love is five golden rings, which represent the five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are also known as the Torah. They outline the history of our sinful humanity and introduce us to God's grace through the promise of a Savior.

6. The 6th Day of Christmas - This day celebrates the 6 days of creation. Just as geese a-laying is the beginning of new life, so was the creation that gave life to all around us. Today is also the Catholic feast of the Holy Family, which is a great day to be thankful for the blessing of family and strive to live in the faithful love that the Holy Family exemplified.

7. The Seventh Day of Christmas - Our True Love gives to us seven swans a-swimming, which represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. "If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." (Rom. 12:6-8 NIV) This is an especially interesting thing to think about as we enter a new year and set our resolutions, as we can think about the gifts that we have been given personally and how to best use them this year to the glory of God.

8. The Eighth Day of Christmas - On the eighth day of Christmas our True Love gives to us eight maids a-milking. These young ladies represent the Beatitudes. These are eight blessings given by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. They demonstrate his teaching of love and humility, and exhibit God's mercy and compassion.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
3. Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
5. Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV)

9. The 9th Day of Christmas - This day our gift from our True Love is nine ladies dancing. The nine stand for the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These are given to us as guidelines for how to live a life in Christ and love one another.
10. The 10th Day of Christmas - Today our gift from our True Love is ten lords a-leaping. We can view them as representative of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
11. The 11th Day of Christmas - Almost there! On the 11th day of Christmas our True Love gives us eleven pipers piping, which represent the eleven faithful apostles. It doesn't include Judas who betrayed Jesus. I also find the pipers to be symbolic of the apostles who, after the ascension of Christ, traveled, taught, and proclaimed the good news of a risen savior.

12. The 12th Day of Christmas! On this day our True Love gives to us twelve drummers drumming. They stand for the 12 point of the apostles creed, which is statement of the Christian faith and beliefs. Tonight is also Twelfth Night, which celebrates the end of the Christmas season and marks the coming of Epiphany. Some traditions that historically take place on Twelfth Night are drinking wassail, baking pastries and cakes, and overall merrymaking. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was considered the end of the Winter Festival that began on All Hallow's Eve. Christmas decorations were also traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night. The most famous literary reference is the Shakespeare play by the same name.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Talking Donkeys

For the last six months I have been working my way through the Bible. I started with the New Testament, and then moved on to the Old Testament. My reasoning behind reading it in that order was to become more well-versed in the events surrounding the coming of the Messiah so I could more easily recognize the parallels and prophesies concerning it in the Old Testament.

If I can be completely honest, I struggle with the Old Testament. Somewhere mid-Genesis I found myself alternately appalled and bored. Currently I am reading the Book of Numbers. Come to find out, it literally is a book full of numbers. Imagine that! The book includes detailed census counts of the Israelites as they wandered the desert.

Last night I was feeling especially down in the dumps, and decided to continue my reading. Admittedly, I wasn't excited about more OT numbers, details, and blood, but I was still searching for some kind of comfort. I began reading at Numbers 22. The chapter recounts the story of a man named Balaam who the Midianites try to entice into cursing the people of Israel. God commands Balaam that he must not curse the people of Israel, because they are a blessed people. Anyway, the part of the story that struck me was Balaam and his donkey. Balaam started down a path that was contrary to what the Lord had commanded, so the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. (Numbers 22:22) Balaam's donkey was able to see the angel of the Lord, but Balaam was not, so the donkey kept doing whatever she could to avoid going further down the path. Because Balaam could not see that the path was blocked by the angel of the Lord, he continued to beat his donkey for her disobedience. Finally, the Lord gave the donkey the power to speak, and she laid quite a guilt trip on her master. The Lord then opened Balaam's eyes and he was able to see the the angel of the Lord.

The angel of the Lord asked him, "Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her." Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road of oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back." - Numbers 22:32-34 (NIV)

Why did this story strike me? It is very easy to follow what I want. It isn't always so easy to see the Lord opposing my choices. I think sometimes I am a bit like Balaam, following a path that I think is the best, when all the while the Lord is standing in opposition. It is easy to lash out and place blame on the things around me that I feel like are causing me problems, like Balaam lashing out on his donkey, when those things may simply be placed there as intentional stumbling blocks meant to hinder my progress down the wrong path. Perhaps the things that I see as standing in my way are actually things that guard me from utter disaster. I just find it unfortunate that I don't have a talking donkey to tell me so.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pointing to a Random Verse

I wasn't quite sure if it was an acceptable thing for me to do, but I thought it was worth a try. I was in a state I can only describe as extreme frustration, praying desperately that God help me to see His path for my life. I opened my Bible and pointed to a verse at random. I opened my eyes, looked down, and read the words under my finger: "You have made known to me the paths of life"...really? REALLY?! I felt discouraged. If I already knew my path, why would I be asking so fervently? Dwelling on this, I noticed that I had gotten so caught up in the first part of the verse, I had ignored the second part: "you will make me full of gladness with your presence." (Acts 2:28) Ah ha. I do know the paths of life after all. I need to rejoice in the fact that God is always present with me, and will always be there to guide me. I just need to actually trust Him and listen! I am not supposed to know exactly what is in store for me, God will reveal it to me when we get to it.
You have made known to me the paths of life, you will make me
full of gladness at your presence. - Acts 2:28

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Falling Off the Bull

Summertime gives me a great chance to finally slow down and think about things. It also gives me the time to come up with sappy analogies. Bear with me here! I'd like to compare our troubles in life to a rodeo. More specifically, bull riding. I apologize in advance to all of those real tried-and-true cowbows out there, my knowledge of the sport is pretty much limited to the stands at the county fair and the movie "8 Seconds." Reguardless, it is the best analogy I can think of to illustrate my point.

Imagine yourself as a rookie bull rider. You have never been on a bull before, but you trust in yourself and your natural ability. As you wait behind the gate, the feeling is indescribable. You feel the adrenaline rush, like you could conquer anything. You feel certain you will be an all-star your very first time. The gate tighten your grip...the bull bursts from the shoot and it is a purely exhilarating experience...for all of half a second. One moment you are on top of the world (and the bull), the next you are flat on your back in a cow pie. You could quit right there. After all, you didn't succeed like you were sure you would. Your coach picks you up (do they have coaches in bull riding? I don't know, but in my story they do) and brushes you off. He gives you directions and guidance as you climb on again. As the gate opens, though, the rush is too much. Everything your coach told you has been lost in the exhilaration of the moment, and before you know it you are reunited with that cow pie. Time and time again, your coach picks you up and gives you guidance and directions, and time and time again you get caught up in the excitement and the visions of your own glory. Before long, frustration sets in and for the life of you, you can't figure out why you try and try but always end up with the same painful results.

Each time you fall, though, your coach is there to pick you up. As he is giving you yet again more guidance, you realize that you have been focusing on entirely the wrong things. Your goal has been the exhilaration and excitment of the moment, and achieving glory for yourself. Finally, you listen to what your coach has been saying all along. You will still fall off the bull from time to time, but your with you coach's guidance the pain of falling becomes much less. By focusing on the guidance of your coach rather than your own exhilaration and glory, you are finally able to achieve that glory. Not because of yourself, but because of He who gives you strength and guidance.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight."
-Proverbs 3:5-6