Thursday, January 2, 2014

The 12 Days of Christmas - Day 1 Through Day 8

The 1st Day of Christmas

Psalm 91:3,4
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
Every once in a while the Old Testament looks a bit far afield to give us imagery for God's love and care. In Psalm 91 we hear one such example. God is being likened to a bird guarding its young. The image of gigantic wings overspreading us and shielding us from harm is a comforting one. And, to be sure, there are times when God does prevent harm and suffering from befalling us.

But it is even more beautiful to realize that, in the Incarnation, the wings of God are not gigantic -- but are rather small and fragile like a partridge's -- or like us. Then the wings shield us -- not by hiding us -- but by showing us how to fly and escape the fowler's snare, as Jesus escaped the deadly pestilence of the grave. His faithfulness shows us not how to hide from suffering, but how to suffer like Him and gain the resurrection. That is, after all, why He came into this world and why we especially remember this during Christmas. So celebrate the Life that has conquered death in the newborn Christ Child, who came to teach us how to love in every circumstance each and every day. 

The 2nd Day of Christmas

Luke 2:22-24And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord') and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.'
'Two turtledoves' is a Christmas gift as old as Christmas. It was the gift the Holy Family offered in sacrifice when the day came for Jesus' circumcision. It was the sacrifice of the poor. The Holy Family could not offer much monetarily. But they offered themselves in their sacrifice -- the only sacrifice that God seeks of us.

Most difficult of all, in the unfolding of the mystery of the Incarnation, they offered their Son, who would teach us how to die to ourselves and live for others. Let's receive that gift, for indeed it is the only gift of life!

The 3rd Day of Christmas

1 Cor. 13:13
'So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.'
The French would have us believe that their hens' eggs are of the highest possible quality, and given the reputation of their cuisine let's assume this is so. Hence an analogy for the greatest of the 'supernatural' virtues -- faith, hope and love -- is not too far amiss in a gift of 3 French hens.

Our 'True Love' shows us the reality of love in the Kingdom: a love that shows the worth of every individual; a love that puts the needs of others above our own; a love that asks nothing in return; a Love that loved us before we ever knew Him.

A Love that stretched out His arms -- on the Cross -- and calls us to the same self-sacrificing love. It is the most powerful force in all creation, for only such a love can change hearts. As we reflect anew on the coming of Christ this Christmas season, our center must be on this calling to love by He who loved us first!

The 4th Day of Christmas

Matthew 9:9As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he rose and followed him.
The four Gospel writers could be thought of as the original 'four collie (black) birds.' Like all such talkative critters, collie birds are members of the thrash family and learn to call by being called. Before they met Jesus, the Gospel writers had nothing in common: a tax collector and collaborator with the Romans; a young man at loose ends; a Gentile doctor hundreds of miles away from Judea; a fisherman eking out an existence on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. But then, one by one, they were called, just as St. Matthew was -- and they found their voices and answered.

In the call of Jesus there is more than one kind of revelation. For Jesus does not merely reveal the Father to us. He also reveals us to ourselves, and is so doing, reveals our need for others. That is, being made in the image and likeness of the Trinity is not merely personal, though it is indeed that; it also is communal, i.e., families, cultures, nations and the like are also part of the image and likeness of our God.

Further, all of the created order -- seen and unseen -- in some way reflects that image and likeness. Hence the immense diversity of the Family of God (which is to say we are a catholic people), yet we are one people of God, being united through Christ into the Bride of Christ. Christ, our Bridegroom, fills his Bride with great gifts, especially the Holy Spirit, so we indeed may be known as holy. And as St. Matthew and the other apostles learned to call by being called, they have continued to call others into the Family.

In saying 'Yes' to Jesus the evangelists found that they could speak in their own voices to the world. They also found that, for all their individuality, they could speak as one in a common love and a common mission. That's why they went out into the world to call people into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and why we called to do the same. 

The 5th Day of Christmas

Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.
Five gold rings actually referred to ring-necked pheasants, but if we stretch the analogy a bit we can still see the focus of rings, which is to remind us of our commitment to someone. The five books of the Law point out to us that our faith is not some abstraction based on moral writings, no matter how good those writings may be. Rather, our faith calls us into a permanent relationship with God, a covenant relationship. These five books recount the beginnings of that relationship, noting we are made in the image of God, that we have fallen from grace, that God aims to save us, and that we often work at cross purposes with Him even when He wills our good, since we can be a 'stiff-necked and rebellious people.' They remind us that despite these failings on our part, God still wills our good and is determined that we shall have him, for He will never abandon us.

The whole point of the command given by Joshua is for Israel to remember we are in that relationship with God. The paradox of the command is that Israel will discover through long centuries of attempts the deepest lesson of the book of the Law: namely, that it cannot be kept in our own power and strength; and that we need help in the name of Jesus the Christ to reestablish our relationship of grace, and to help us remain in that relationship.

The 6th Day of Christmas

Genesis 1:31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Ancient pagan myths often looked to the hatching of a gigantic cosmic egg for the beginning of the universe. Six cosmic geese-a-laying seemed as reasonable as anything else when confronted by the gigantic spectacle of a universe that was both here and yet incredibly strange and impossible looking. But, of course, as charming as a cosmic egg is, sooner or later, annoying questions intrude on such folk stories. Questions like 'Which came first the cosmic goose or the cosmic egg?' start to needle us. If the universe comes from an egg where did the egg come from? And if the egg came from a goose, where did the goose come from?

All such attempts to just propel merely natural cause and effect relationships into infinity are doomed by such questioning. Sooner or later, one has to look -- not for a natural cause (which always requires another natural cause) -- but a supernatural cause which requires nothing in nature for it to exist. The author of Genesis understood this. And remarkably, he was virtually the only person in antiquity to have done so, though we understand today he was aided in this by the Holy Spirit or such truth would have remained hidden.

In the elegant, spare words of Genesis: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', a creation from nothing which seems not to have occurred to most people in the ancient world. Nearly always, the gods begin their work of creation by molding some primordial glob into various creatures. In Genesis alone do we see God bringing everything into being from nothing. Instead of six cosmic geese, we have six days in which God begins with nothing but himself and, by day's end, is wiping His hands on His apron with all the satisfaction of a great artist pleased at work well done. He is still pleased. That's why creation still exists.

The 7th Day of Christmas

Acts 8:14-17Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Using 7 swans a-swimming to reflect the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, brings us to St. Luke's account of the Christians in Samaria, an account which puzzles many people. It has lead some to make a division between sacramental baptism (it's just a ritual) and 'true baptism in the Holy Spirit.' But this is to misread the passage. The Samaritans who became Christians were -- like all Christians -- baptized and, like all Christians, had received the Holy Spirit thereby.

But this does not mean that the story was over. It never is. For as long as the Christian Tradition has existed, there has been a second sacrament of initiation -- Confirmation -- which asks God to pour out the fullness of the Holy Spirit on the believer and empower him with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the work of mission in the world and the task of becoming mature in Christ.

It is this sacrament which we see being given in St. Luke's account. It is a sacrament filled with the quiet power of God. As the New Year approaches, let's ask God to fill us anew with the power of the Holy Spirit that so that we may live out the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and become what we are each and all called to become -- a saint in the One Family of God!  

The 8th Day of Christmas

Isaiah 61:1-2The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
The eight maids a-milking reminds us of the eight beatitudes espoused by Christ. And the fact that the 8th day of Christmas falls on our secular New Year's Day suggests the newness of life that the beatitudes offer us -- an inside look at how we are called to live in the Kingdom. New Year's Day can then be seen as pointing to the coming age, when not just the year but all eternity will be offered us brand new and shiny and full of surprises!

And unlike this life, we will not have to watch as the whole thing rusts and falls apart before our eyes. When that Day comes, the beatitude described by Christ will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and the things we have only glimpsed herein will be made permanent and universal. What will it look like? This is beyond us for now ('… eye has not seen...'). But what will be there will include the beatitudes Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount -- the call to how we should live now -- and will live as citizens of the fullness of the Kingdom to come.

But where this world necessitates that the good person be patient and kind in the face of cruelty, there will remain only the patient person, not the cruelty. Good will be expressed finally and completely, revealing to all that good is not dependent on evil to exist, but rather that evil was dependent on good. The captive will be liberated; the tears wiped away. The Good News will be life in the Trinity!  

 Note: I am blessed to be receiving one of these reflections, from a deacon friend, each day. He tells me he doesn't know their source but makes simple edits as he deems necessary. Do you know the original source? Please share if you do.