The Journey 359
Read: Mathew 2: 1-12
Carols are an integral part of our Christmas celebrations. Most of the carol songs have certain significance behind the writing of these songs and when we understand the context behind the writing of these songs, and the faith perspective in which these carols were written, our singing of those carols and celebrations of Christ event becomes more special. One of the famous carols that many choirs love to sing during Christmas is the carol “Twelve days of Christmas”. It was only recently I came across a wonderful compilation about the history of this wonderful song by Austin Miles in his blog. Austin Miles states that the carol, Twelve days of Christmas which has baffling lyrics like the true love giving a pear tree, swimming swans, leaping lords, French hens has an interesting story and a deep meaning behind the lines. According to Mills, when one studies the events in history when the song was written, the period between 1558 to 1829, that was a time when Christians were not permitted to practice their faith openly. As a result of this persecution, an anonymous Christian wrote this song of twelve days of Christmas as a catechism for the young Christians who wanted to know more about Christian faith. The carol has two levels of meaning. The plain meaning that one can get from the song and secondly the hidden meaning which was known only to the members of the church, which they used to communicate by singing this carol. Each element in the carol has a code word for the religious truth that the children needed to remember as they began studying the elements of Christian faith. According to Austin Mills, the hidden meaning of each of the symbol in the song is the following. One partridge in a pear tree refers to Jesus Christ. Two turtle doves refers to the Old and New Testament, while three French hens refers to Faith, Hope and Love. Four calling birds in the carol referred to gospel of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Five golden rings recalled the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament. Six geese are laying stood for the six days of creation while the seven swans a swimming stood or represented the seven fold gifts of the Holy Spirit, viz; prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and acts of service or mercy. Eight maids a milking referred to the eight beatitudes while nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Sprit which were Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Ten Lords a leaping refers to the ten commandments while eleven pipers stood for eleven disciples. Finally the twelve drummers referred to twelve point of beliefs in the Apostles creed. These interpretations may sound strange to us and we may not know the actual truth behind these lines. But yet this interpretation bring to the fore the passion the early believers had to communicate the good news of our Lord and his ministry to others. In today’s times where we do not have any hindrances nor restrictions on the way we practice our faith, Christmas for many of us degenerates to the blind following of certain celebrations or symbols without truly understanding or comprehending the richness of its meaning nor faith behind the advent story. It is only when truly understand the significance of the symbols or the message behind the carols, only then can our celebration that we do this Christmas day become truly richer and meaningful.
We are meditating on the theme “Transformed Living” and the portion that we shall use for our meditation is from Mathew 2: 1-12. This is the portion where we find the journey of the wise men. The symbol that they use in their search to find Jesus Christ is a star. It is the star that lead them on the sojourn, in their journey to behold the new born child who is prophesied as the king and the messiah. The journey with the star takes them on different routs, meeting people especially the encounter with King Herod. But finally the star takes them to the spot or the place where Jesus was laid; in a manger. The star as a symbol fulfills its purpose of guiding the wise men in their journey to encounter Christ. Here are wise men who are basically seekers, trying to know and gauge as to who this child is who is being prophesied as the King of the Jews. The journey begins with an intellectual exploration with the help of celestial objects. When the exploration begins there is no relationship as such between the explorer and the person being explored. But once the star takes them to Baby Jesus, the wise men submit their gifts as an act of reverence, bow down, worship him and then they depart on an entirely new route. Three people who are guided by the star, three people who are on a journey to encounter a new born baby. But the moment they encounter the baby, the response of these wise men is to bow down and worship, because the intellectual search has ended now with the experience of seeing the presence of God in their midst. I think this is what every celebration of Christmas should finally lead to. All the symbols and celebrations that we have for Christmas need to point to our Lord and the celebrations should help us to encounter our Lord in our life. When we are able to do that then the response from us should be to bow down and worship because we have experienced His presence in our life and in history. If this Christmas we have not been able to experience the presence of Christ in our lives and if the celebrations does not lead us to an encounter of his presence then all our celebrations are only a dead celebrations, celebrating certain dead and blind traditions that has neither meaning nor faith element in it. I hope and pray that all our celebrations lead us to experience the presence of God in our life, which make us to fall down, offer ourselves and worship him.
Rev. Dr. Joe Joseph Kuruvilla