Insights from the 12 Days of Christmas

Carols weave themselves into grocery aisles, department stores, and even the outdoor speakers over our gas pumps. We hear them on every commercial and the radio stations in our cars. The lyrics often fade into oblivion as our ears grow numb under the saturation with seasonal tunes. Christmas music falls short of impacting the heart, as we tune out the words we’ve heard all too often.
History’s songwriters crafted deeper purpose into the stanzas we now take for granted. Illiterate commoners sang memorable words to surround their bleak lives with the hope of Christmas. One hymn has been suspected to offer a secret theological code during a time of Catholic persecution in England–The Twelve Days of Christmas. Snopes debunks this theory, noting the French origins of the hymn and the similarities of theology between Anglicans and Catholics included in the “code.”
Whether the legends of secret encoding are true or not, we can use the song’s symbols to reconnect with the deeper meaning of Christmas. Regardless of our material circumstances, the birth of a Savior reminds us we all have more than this tangible and temporary existence. The Twelve Days Christmas, originally referring to a time between the nativity celebration and epiphany, offers an opportunity to reflect upon God’s generosity. Throughout the ages, He has offered each human son and daughter His most lavish blessings. Those who stretch their arms toward Jesus as their “true love” receive abundant gifts. Regardless of the song’s origin, let’s consider each listed present as representative of His ongoing blessings to us.
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”
Each stanza brings us to the core tenet of Christianity–the true love of God. The refrain of divine love recurs throughout Scripture. We find it in Old Testament cornerstones, like Deuteronomy 6:5 and 7:9-12. Jesus designates love as the foundation of the law in Matthew 22:37. And the music continues, and 1 John 4:10 harmonizes with our featured hymn, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Christ serves as the primary gift of Christmas to offer fruitful life. The “partridge in a pear tree” can remind us of Jesus, who died on a “tree” as a gift from God. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins,we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Peter 2:24). The song’s featured bird also serves as an interesting symbol, since mother partridges present themselves as injured to predators in order to draw the danger away from helpless nestlings. The partridge in a pear tree offers the message of hope to all of us, as we need Him to save us from the threats of death and separation from God.
The promise of mending the relationship with God and restoring the brokenness of our world began in the Old Testament, directly after sin shattered the perfection of God’s design (see Genesis 3:21, where the Lord provided a covering for the shame of Adam and Eve). The doting Lord began foreshadowing the gift of His Son in the provision of sacrificial skins in Genesis and continued His love story with substituting a ram for Abram’s son (Genesis 22). He echoed His planned present in detail when Moses delivered Israel from Egypt. King David’s psalms and the ancient prophets filled the centuries with countless portraits of the coming Messiah. His love bursts onto the scene in the Christmas story and abounds throughout the gospels and apostolic letters. We can enjoy the song’s “two turtle doves” as representing the Old and New Testaments. The Bible’s two parts coo in agreement with one another, and bring us ongoing blessings as a synchronous gift from God.
When we receive the greatest gift, salvation, we also get an amazing additional boon. “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5; see also Romans 8). Carolers can reflect upon the “three French hens” as faith, hope and love, the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I Corinthians 13).  These beautifully plumed gifts are also known as theological virtues. 
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, apostles spread the message of true love’s reconciliation. A few brave, devoted followers risked their lives and endured intense persecution to share light with the world. In the Twelve Days of Christmas, “four calling birds” correllate with the number of Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The “five golden rings” can remind us of the first five books of the Bible. These Scripture passages are also known as the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy). This Biblical section recounts the history of man’s inability to earn his own salvation. The truth of these “rings” declares the precious value of Christ’s gift of salvation.
Next week, we’ll continue our discussion of this beloved, ancient carol. Until then, try humming to hold the season’s spiritual hope at the center of your Christmas focus.
Be Encouraged,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments...the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors” (Deut 7:9-12).
“The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

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