Last week, we began reflecting upon a holiday carol’s legend. While the intrigue rumored to influence The Twelve Days of Christmas has been debunked by scholars, we can still benefit from meditating upon the lyrics. Reflecting upon the subject of each stanza as a faith symbol offers us an opportunity to repurpose the song as a reminder of the real joy Christmas brings. The birth of Christ invites the world into a personal relationship with the Lord. Let’s continue to explore the gifts given by the truest love we’ve ever known, Creator God.
Consider the carol’s “six geese a-laying” as the six days of creation. Read the dawn of Scripture in the Genesis 1. Elohim, the plural term for our triune Lord, testifies to the participation of Father God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in creation. In His divine craftsmanship, God uses the first three days to sculpt a perfect environment. He breathes living things into existence and settles them at home during the three following days. Each element of creation continues to provide blessings for the beloved children God formed in His own image. Consider how well God crafted our habitat. Light. Water. Land. Air. Vegetation. Sunny days and starry nights. Animals. Friends. If any part of our earth had not been formed, how much would we miss it?
The fall of mankind ruptured the perfect world of God’s original creation, but the Lord planned to restore us. The entire Old Testament echoes our need for renewal and the Father’s intent to bring it. Though many prophecies foretold the coming Messiah, mankind failed to imagine the enormity of the coming gift. When Immanuel arrived at the first Christmas, God’s presence among us hinted at an unexpected boon. God did more than recreate the Eden where He walked beside humans. Those who accept Christ receive eternal life, including God’s indwelling presence forever. Jesus told His disciples about the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17) coming to live within them, but they could not have understood what this meant until they experienced it.
As we celebrate the wondrous presence of God, let’s reflect upon the “seven swans a swimming” as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12, Ephesians 4; I Peter 4:10-11). Historically a valued feature of royal gardens, swans represent nobility, power, and elegant beauty. These glorious birds appear to move without effort across a placid lake’s surface. Likewise, spiritual gifts flow on the power of living water of Christ’s presence in the believer’s soul. The Holy Spirit equips believers to serve a divine purpose they could not accomplish on human effort.
Christ brought an abundance of good news to the broken world. In Matthew 5:1-11, Jesus encouraged the commonfolk about new access to God’s favor in the eight beatitudes. Just like the carol’s “eight maids a milking” offered nourishment, the hungry souls of earth now have an ongoing resource for vitality. The servants and multiple cows indicate wealth and status like many of the song’s featured items. Likewise, the beatitudes extended noble rank and divine favor to all in the kingdom of God. The poor in spirit will receive heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. Those hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be filled. The merciful will be shown mercy. Those with purified hearts will see God. Peacemakers will be adopted as children of God. Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake will inherit the kingdom of God. These promises offer blessings as rich and satisfying as the creamy treats reserved for a holiday feast.
We’ve noted the magnificent gifts of Christ restoring our relationship with the Father and equipping us to bless others. Our “true love” is a lavish giver and His presence also revitalizes our character. Let’s look a little more at the blessings of the indwelling Spirit of God. Symmetrical to The Twelve Days of Christmas’ “nine ladies dancing,” there are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22 & 23). Those who live according to the Lord’s presence experience improved well being. As we transform our character to align with the Holy Spirit, we develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. Truly an endless gift!
Relationship with God pervades the message of Scripture. God created us in love and for connection with Him. The Old Testament’s original laws outlined the vital foundation of living in peace with God and, by extension, with our fellow human beings. Exodus 20 shares five rules to guide us on each of these. In our imperfect nature, we fail to keep these on our own power. These Ten Commandments shed light upon the need for Immanuel, God with us. Like “ten lords a-leaping” in the song, the arrival of Christ transforms our covenant into a celebratory law of the Spirit. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:1-3).
Gratitude for our loving Father’s gifts inspires us on the journey of discipleship. In this distracting world, circumstances and discouragements can veer us off the spiritual path. We need mentors and models to call us onward toward God’s best plan for our lives. Christ serves as the ultimate model, of course. He provides us with contemporary leaders to guide us on our way, too. Pastors, teachers, and fellow Christians who’ve traveled a bit further down the road of spiritual maturity can offer us a hand. The wise mentors point us to key examples in Scripture and encourage us to read about our Christian ancestors. Like “eleven pipers piping,” the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus strike up an inspiring tune on the New Testament pages. Their stories and letters whistle an encouragement to follow them on the way to becoming more like Christ.
Our featured carol ends with a thunderous crescendo and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate close to our discussion. As we celebrate the gift of life this Christmas, let’s rejoice in gratefulness for this faith. Envision a line of “twelve drummers drumming” around us as we roll through the twelve points of the Apostles Creed.
(1) I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth,
(2) and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
(3) Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,
(4) suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell.
(5) The third day He arose again from the dead;
(6) He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
(7) from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
(8) I believe in the Holy Spirit;
(9) the holy catholic church; the communion of saints;
(10) the forgiveness of sins;
(11) the resurrection of the body;
(12) and the life everlasting.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you”(John14:16-17).