The radio stations are finally going back to their normal programming after Christmas. Sirius Radio and other speciality programming venues changed some of their channels to holiday songs, hymns and familiar standards from Thanksgiving through the New Year and in the last day or so have put our Christmas carols back in the archives until late next fall.
Frankly, I am fine with this as Christmas is a special season and I look forward to the carols, the Hallmark movies and other Christmas standards such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the month of December. Recently, Dave, a dear friend of mine, started telling me that our most famous Christmas carols were mostly rooted in Christianity (I knew this) and that many of them had a special history that most people didn’t realize (I didn’t know this)! In fact, he gave me a gift this Christmas that discussed the history of our most famous holiday songs.
For example, the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” was used by the Catholic church to teach the doctrine to youngsters when Catholicism was forbidden in England. Back in the day, it was against the law to promote the Catholic faith and those who taught others were subject to arrest and, in severe cases, were put to death. It was a dangerous time and the faith had to go underground to survive.
The famous song, with the partridge in a pear tree, the pipers, drummers, turtle doves, French hens and other familiar Yuletide characters were really secret code to help remember the faith. Even the familiar reference to “my true love” in the beginning of the song referred to the love of Christ – not a girl friend or boy friend…
Each verse represented something special – the partridge represented courage and devotion as a mother partridge lures enemies away from the nest and even sacrifices her own life to protect her children – just as Christ did for us… the two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments… three French hens; the wise men and a feast fit for kings, along with gold, frankincense and myrrh… four calling birds refer to the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)… the five gold rings represent the Pentateuch or Law that was written by Moses.
Six geese represent the six days of creation and the “laying” refers to life that God created… seven swans referred to the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:6-8 (prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy)… the eight maids milking referred to the common man that Christ came to represent and the beatitudes mentioned in Matthew 5:3-10… nine ladies dancing represent the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) and how wonderful it is to serve Christ.
Ten lords a leaping represent the ten commandments… eleven pipers piping represent the eleven apostles who followed Christ (Judas turned against Jesus)… and the twelve drummers drumming represented the dozen elements mentioned in the famous Apostles’ Creed – a foundation of the faith – things such as the Virgin Birth, the resurrection and all the other things that are professed in the Creed.
Other Christmas carols have similar histories and it is fascinating to read about these ancient traditions taken from the Bible. Speaking of which, the Bible has many songs of its own. Many scholars believe that, like the carols that I just mentioned, the 150 psalms were all songs that were sung during the Babylonian captivity so that the Jewish people would not forget their history during their time away from the Promised Land.
There are other songs in the Scripture as well. By some counts, there are as many as 185 songs including all the psalms. Probably the most famous is the song that Mary sang when she when she was was with Elizabeth after she found out that she was pregnant with Jesus. It is usually called the Magnificat.
Our verse for tonight is the song that Mary sang in the presence of Elizabeth who was also with child – the child who grew up to be John the Baptist. Luke, the writer of the Gospel bearing his name, tells us the words to the song in Luke 1:46-55, “And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
My encouragement tonight is that throughout our lives we use many devices to remember things that are important to us – including songs. And generally, songs are sung when we are happy – something that pleases God – especially when we sing in praise and worship. My prayer is that we will all dedicate time to remembering the doctrines and important parts of the faith. Singing them is one thing – but keeping them in our hearts is even more important. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…