“OK, Thanksgiving is over. Enough with all this gratitude ‘stuff’. Let’s get on with the real holiday – Christmas!”
How many times have you caught yourself thinking those thoughts already? Now I do not really think that way, but I know a lot of people do. There are people who cannot wait for “Black Friday” to begin. And of course, a lot of merchants can’t wait either. But they are just as excited for that “day” (it’s more like a season in and of itself) to be over!
This coming Sunday marks, in the traditional church calendar, the beginning of the Advent season.
Often many churches will celebrate this season by lighting candles in what is called an Advent wreath, one candle on each of the Sundays preceding Christmas Day. The idea here is to begin to celebrate the season from a spiritual, not just a financial, perspective. (I don’t know, but I have a sneaking suspicion this Advent season was also started so that preachers would have more than one Sunday or so to talk about Christmas!)
But in reality, with the onset of the Advent season, our thoughts do indeed move from the mundane to the divine, and we begin to look ahead to the Christmas season, and think about the Christmas story!
As an illustration of this, how many times, during this time of the year, have you caught yourself singing or humming a Christmas Carol or two as you go about your daily tasks? And one of the more popular ones for this season is that seemingly endless tune called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
In December of 1994, the PNC Bank Corp published the following list to demonstrate that the price of gift-giving has really gotten out of hand. In that article, the price of giving all the items in the song “The 12 Days of Christmas” went up less than 2 percent in 1994, under the current annual rate of inflation of 2.6 percent.
1 Partridge in a pear tree — $35
2 Turtle doves — $50
3 French hens —$15
4 Calling birds — $280
5 Gold rings — $450
6 Geese-a-laying — $150
7 Swans-a-swimming — $7,000
8 Maids-a-milking — $34
9 Pipers piping — $2,607
10 Ladies dancing — $3,013
11 Lords-a-leaping — $1,109
12 Drummers drumming — $1,201
The author of that article went on to say that the total cost of giving all the gifts one time would be $15,944. But if you were to give the gifts as the song says, repeatedly giving the gifts with each passing day, you would find that you would be purchasing 364 presents total, including 12 partridges, 36 calling birds, 60 gold rings, etc, and you would spend a grand total of $73, 345. Wow!
But did you know the rest of the story behind that song?
From 1558 until 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without the risk of persecution.
The song has two levels of interpretation — the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church. Each element in the carol is a code word for a religious reality.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ.
The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
The five gold rings recall the Torah (Law) the first five book of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.
The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing? These are the nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5).
The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.
Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
The original singers of this song did whatever they could to remember the story of God’s love in sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
Many times, God puts us in places we don’t want to be or allows us to go through circumstances we would rather avoid in order to create and make us the person we want to be, and to share His love in new, unique, and powerful ways!
Charles Foster, a respected veterinarian in England, wrote a book called Being a Beast in which he described a very unusual practice he engages in from time to time. Every so often Foster tries to live like a badger. Yes, one of those dark-dwelling, tunnel-making, rodent and worm-eating mammals.
At those times, he has constructed for himself a human-sized badger home, a 15-feet long hole that he could sleep in. He figures that over the years of doing this, he has probably spent six weeks living underground, sleeping during the day, awake at night like real badgers.
For Foster the main part of living like a badger involves getting low to the ground, crawling around on his hands and knees. He also blindfolds his eyes (because badgers’ eyesight is terrible) and eats earthworms (since 85 percent of a badger’s diet consists of worms).
Now as strange and even repugnant as this sounds, think of something even stranger and potentially more repugnant — the God of all creation who exists in perfect beauty and splendor becoming a human being and living on our fallen planet — and there was no escape for a full human lifetime.
Jesus Christ came to us not just as an interesting nature experiment. This Advent season, may each of us recall, whether through carols or stories of badgers or whatever, that God loved us enough to send His Son.
Jesus was not repulsed by us. He came out of love to rescue us from our sin.
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the News Journal. He is also a former Pastor of Port William UMC.