December 28, 2015

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

                  When I decided to live more intentionally the rhythms of the Christian year, this season of Christmastide became much richer for me.  As my friends at Conception Abbey put it, "We are just getting started on Christmas here." The lectionary texts guide us through Prophets, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels, urging us to let the full story of God's  "plan for the fullness of time" (Ephesians 1:10) resound in our hearts.  I have great sympathy for preachers seeking to unfold the great drama of Word made flesh for their congregations; no wonder some are rather weary this week!

                  Preaching through Advent and Christmastide, which I have been privileged to do in a few churches, has given me greater perspective on the nuances of the story as seen through the varied narratives of Scripture.  Although we tend to harmonize the gospels in our Christmas plays, nevertheless,  as we return to these memory laden texts, we hear again God's remarkable desire to be near us.
                  The twelve days of Christmas, that quiet interlude between Christmas and Epiphany, is not easily understood.  Part of the reason for this liturgical framework is to bridge the nativity with those later visitors.  January 6th is traditionally the day that honors the arrival of the Magi, those prescient travelers  from  the East, and some patient folk reserve gift-giving until then.  In these days of xenophobia, I relish that seekers of truth--not believers--are a part of the saga of "God with us."
                  The 18th century folk song of French and English origins, The Twelve Days of Christmas, may have dubious theological origins, but the imaginative use of it over the centuries has prompted us to extend the season and think about the larger sweep of God's work.  On this fourth day, at least by my method of counting, we celebrate "Four Calling Birds," presumably an allusion to the Gospels.

                  How phenomenal that the church would preserve four very different  written testimonies to the impact of the life of Jesus! Each has its own theological purpose--to underscore Jesus' continuity with the Hebrew Bible, to portray his messianic identity, and to express his origin in God, to mention only a few.  These multiple attestations offer a more complete picture, and they provide stronger evidence for the truthfulness of their claims.  I have heard scholars of classical literature speak appreciatively of this trove early Christianity possessed. 
                  Year C of the lectionary invites us to dwell in the Gospel of Luke.  I plan to let its unique word "dwell richly" in me, and I would welcome your company.  Luke's message about a comprehensive view of salvation, wealth and poverty, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the inclusion of "others" will assist us as we mature in our faith and practice.

                  Molly T. Marshall

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