Wonderful friends of ours presented Janet and me with a great gift for the Christmas season. It is a set of ornaments depicting the twelve days of Christmas – immortalized in the song of the same name. It’s a song that we have all heard, and sung, countless times throughout our lives.
You know the one – A partridge in a pear tree, five gold rings, twelve drummers drumming and a host of other gifts throughout the various days of Christmas. It occurred to me that many folks may not realize the true meaning of this song and these gifts from one true love to another.
Contrary to general public belief, the “twelve days of Christmas” isn’t like an advent calendar where we open a “door” each day of December until the arrival of Jesus on December 25th. Rather the liturgical season of Advent ends on Christmas Eve. The word “advent” lets us know that this is a season of anticipation of what is to come and that hope is realized on December 25th, the day that we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In fact, this day ushers in the liturgical season of Christmastide that begins on December 25th and concludes on January 5th each year. Traditionally, January 6th is the day we call Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men to visit the baby Jesus.
As most Christians know, the birth of the baby Jesus was announced by angels to the shepherds in the fields who were guarding their flocks. They spread the Good News and kings started to make the trek to visit the Christ child. We traditionally celebrate, through song and tradition, that there were three wise men. Remember, “We Three Kings?” In reality, however, there were many kingdoms that heard about the birth of Jesus.
It has been estimated that as many as 300 wise men, Magi, eventually visited the newborn King. And for most of them, it would have taken more than twelve days to get to see Him. However, it is possible that several of them, the ones we traditionally depict in the stories and songs, could have paid their respects to the baby Jesus within days.
Some denominations also believe that the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, at the beginning of His ministry, took place on January 6th as well. Suffice it to say that in most liturgical calendars January 6th is a very important day.
So the twelve days of Christmas begins on December 25th. The next twelve days are still times of gift exchanges and remembrances of the birth of Jesus. Today, December 26th, is the second day of Christmas, the gift of two turtle doves – representing in some circles the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. By the way, each day has a symbolic reference and the first gift, a partridge in a pear tree, signifies the birth of Christ. How appropriate for the day that we speak of the Virgin Birth.
Additionally, particularly in more conservative groups, Christmas decorations remain up through the season of Christmastide as a constant reminder of the importance of the birth of our Savior. In fact, the night of January 5th is called Twelfth Night, the end of Christmastide. We celebrate Epiphany the following day.
Our verse for tonight, a long one, highlights the Scriptural passage that marks the beginning of the earthly story of the Savior. The good doctor Luke tells us, in Luke 2:8-19, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
My encouragement is that God wants us to celebrate the birth of His Son, not only on Christmas, or even the twelve days, but every day throughout the year… My prayer is that we will keep the greatest gift we have ever received, the gift of eternal life, close to our hearts this day and every day until the end of the age. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…