On the sixth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me "SIX GEESE A-LAYING".
It was an obediently fertile mind that, looking upon the common goose of the Medieval world, saw a means of observing and preserving for instruction in righteousness, the six days of Creation.
And how fitting for us in the season of the celebration of His Incarnation, by whom it was all made and by whom it all consists, to revisit and devotionally consider how He did it.
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:16-17 NIV
From days one through four He spoke the light, the sky, and celestial bodies into existence. Then He commenced creating living things — marine-life and birds on day five. He continued on day six, creating land animals — wild and livestock. Then finally, bending down, He lovingly formed Man with His own hands and breathed life into him.
What painstaking attention was paid by the Divine Creator to fashion, for us, the boundary of the dwelling called earth, "...in the hope that we might grope (search Him out in all the works of His hands) and find Him since He is not far from each one of us". Acts17:26-27.
My own biggest find, this reading of the Creation account, was that our Heavenly Father created the heavenly bodies for the express purpose of letting them "serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,”
Genesis 1:14 NIV
Here's to marking the sixth of the twelve days of Christmas as a day fit for magnifying and worshipping our great Creator.
"On the fifth day of Christmas, my True Love sent to me FIVE GOLD RINGS!" — this portion of the well-known, though not- so-well-understood carol, is arranged musically as the climax. The notes, highest of the song, are grandly slowed and extended, connoting a rousing cheer being raised in a room full of Christmas revelers with mugs of wassail held high.
Such a picture is fitting when one considers that the 'five gold rings' represent, in this encrypted catechism, the first five books of the Bible's Old Testament, The Pentateuch. What would the Christian Faith be without Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy?
These 5 books, chronicling Man's beginning as well as the origins and unique place of the Jewish people in history, also record the process by which they received the designation, God's Chosen People. Their Holy Writ forms the firm footing of the Christian Faith and are among the Scriptures Jesus read and referred to in presenting Himself to us. He is the Messiah they pointed to, pre-figured and demonstrated our desperate need of.
Representing this treasured heirloom, gifted to us as it were, through our Hebrew spiritual forebears, the musical capstone of 'five gold rings!', is a fitting response. Yet, ironically, thanks has not been the response over the centuries to the Jewish people.
My own meditation on this verse this Christmas season was colored in somber shades by the even more jarring irony of current news out of the United Nations — the vote and condemnation of the tiny modern Jewish nations' right to build new settlements in land rightfully theirs and necessary for securing themselves against the entities which hate their existence and thirst for their annihilation.
To our shame, this decision went un-vetoed by America, previously Israel's main supporter and defender in the UN, Israel being the only democracy in the entire Middle-East.
As I write this piece the church bells of the nearby Methodist church are chiming over our neighborhood the tune of another much-loved Christ as carol invoking Israel,
"Oh come, Oh come Emanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
Shall come to thee oh Israel"
As you enjoy the " five gold rings" of our faith this Christmas, remember those who delivered it to us. Yes, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Following is the story which poured forth on the heels of my epic battle with the formidable distractions that challenged a pure celebration of Christmas for me this year. The allegorical format was helpful in letting me explore the unseen factors that often influence our behavior more than we are aware. I hope you enjoy it.
When Mammon came to Christmas
I imagine the mayhem in Sheol's halls when the fallen ones doggedly scurried to their evil Lord's bidding, as he strained against the fact that another of the Prophecies of the Lord God Almighty was in full motion and he could do nothing to stop it.
He rallied all his minions to focus on this one knowing, even in his darkened mind, that this one was no ordinary prophecy. This one was the core of the Redemption plan.
The spirit assigned to shadow Gabriel had brought back the unthinkable word that the Almighty had revealed to a female mortal that He, Himself, would overshadow her, planting His Righteous Seed in her. "Cosmic Scandal!"
Extinguishing the hapless spirit missive in his rage, the dark Lord had zeroed in on the situation with hellish focus and assumed full charge for this now, most heated, of earth's prophetic hot spots— the Righteous Seed in the virgin's womb.
Commanding another scouring of the Written Word, in his vain efforts to preempt the next prophetic move, he had madly pursued his vain hope to derail it: he had failed to get Joseph, her betrothed, to have her stoned as an adulteress; he had gone to the top of the power brokers of the day, seeking by Roman decree, through Quirinius, to draw the young couple away on a rigorous journey - perhaps if the thieves , robbers and brigands he incited could do nothing, then maybe the rough roads might end this 'infernal fiasco' in miscarriage.
But again and again he knew the futility of striving against the Word sent forth from the Mouth of the Almighty.
However, perseverance was his strongest vice so, he surged on into Bethlehem. He successfully garnered the press and confusion of the Roman decree, to distract and harden every heart to the desperate plight of a tender young woman in the early throes of labor. But yet again, thwarted by God's unstoppable Decree, enraged by defeat, he plucked his charred feathers as the Divine One entered earth's annals, by virgin birth, as it was written.
Yet even then, he tried to comfort himself, thinking he understood the prophet Isaiah's words: 'Who will believe this report?' - God in a manger? No way. 'To whom is this Arm of the Lord revealed?'- A herald of any consequence? Nope, just a few despised shepherds, right? No! Seeking hearts had scooped his minions — Word had hit the intellectual media houses of the East and Kings had come, bearing gifts, pledging homage.
Baffled at the Omnipotence of the Almighty, he writhed in anguish as his every effort became incorporated in helping fulfill the hated prophecies of Messiah instead of thwarting them.
Maddened, he played what he assumed to be his one trump card in the deal - Herod. He dispatched a master-class demon named Mammon, which found happy host in this local ruler whose soul was already severely darkened by power-lust and vain-ambition.
And so it began: the corrupting of worship's motive, found in the pure perspective of the enlightened Magi, who though kings, bowed low, and who though rich in this world's goods, joyfully used and lavished their wealth in pursuit and worship of the King whose Kingdom would know no end. "Go seek the young child, " Mammon lied through Herod's teeth. "And when you find him bring me word again, that I also may come and worship him". When his intentions were easily unveiled by a simple dream, Herod commissioned the slaughter of the innocents (casualties of the search warrant subsequently issued for the infant Messiah).
So, instead of the sound of worship, "A voice was heard in Ramah, of Rachel weeping for her children because they were not", as Mammon settled down at Christmas' gates, misdirecting man's heart worship.
From a score of centuries ago to this day, he skulks around and insidiously plies his trade — "We would see Jesus!" Men cry, "We celebrate His arrival on earth! But even as the day draws near good intentions are corrupted, and men's eyes, resting on Vanity's fare, eventually move hands to reach forth with Midas-like touch and soon thinly disguised veils of self-seeking, appearing as worshipful intent, fall away, and opening wide his mouth, Mammon blatantly receives sacrifices of all the fruit of the labor of man's hands in the name of the Holy One laid in the manger.
But oh the vanity of Evil's striving, for the Son, escorted to Egypt, would be called forth again to dwell in Nazareth, fulfilling every Word of the Father. Prophets would peacefully depart having seen the Lord's salvation, the blind would be healed, the deaf hear, the lame made to walk, declaring that the Kingdom of God has broken forth upon the night of man. Messiah would surrender His life, right on time, raised on the third day and, having taken captivity captive, give the Gift of life, abundant and free, to Mankind.
But let the reader beware, for though thwarted in his purpose, Mammon still lurks and broods, at the gates of Christmas.
'Bow low at the manger with shepherds and kings,
First as the 'nothing in my hands I bring',
If the gifts you there offer are e'er to become,
As the ones offered then by the men of Wisdom.
Their purpose must tell of Emanuel
Not serve selfish goals or ones spawned from hell'.
Our Lord's brother, James, warns of the source of fights and quarrels among us - our desires that battle within us, he says. More important, he later declares to us Our heavenly Father's delight to give us good and perfect gifts — ones that satisfy us deep in our souls and deliver us from vulnerability to Mammon. We can't serve both, the Word declares, "we will love one and hate the other". Let’s worship God.
"Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts", Rom13:14,
at Christmas time and throughout the rest of the year.
I was robbed of at least twelve days of my Advent observations this year. Due to busyness and unavoidable demands I, too easily, fell prey to three vices common to man—fear, pride and coveting. In fighting back, I have determined to celebrate all twelve days of Christmas, which only begins on Christmas Day (as my dear mother-in-law is careful to remind us) and continues to Epiphany when the arrival of the wisemen is celebrated.
I wrote the story WHEN MAMMON CAME TO CHRISTMAS and read it to the family ( captive audience in the car on the way to Christmas Eve service). I kept my poinsettia earrings in, rearranged displaced decorations, kept Christmas lights on and even wore a festive crochet vest over my brown turtleneck sweater to work on day three.
The concept of the twelve days of Christmas is probably best known to most through the familiar carol of the same name. The Carol and the story of its origin, which can be read here, is said to have been composed by persecuted Catholics in England in the 1600s, forbidden to openly practice their faith. The symbols for each day, encrypted teachings of the church, seem like good fodder for a twelve day observance. So I am going for it! Today, on my Bible app I will listen to the sound of the FOUR CALLING BIRDS, the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The first nativity set I bought for our fledgling family, did not have a manger with the baby Jesus, or so it was thought. Ten dollars provided this bargain because someone did not search through all the packaging sufficiently before labeling it defective, for re-sale. Imagine my delight when, upon unpacking and trying to figure where I would find a 'manger-and-Jesus-in-porcelain' to match my new set, I found it neatly wrapped and buried at the bottom corner of the emaciated box, the fact that the characters were all cast in Euro-centric features not even vaguely being an issue.
That experience is something akin to the emotions that prompted my writing the poem, ‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’*. It was my first piece, written in verse, that sought to be faithful to the rhythm, idioms and phonology of Jamaican Creole speech. Still primarily an oral language at the time that I studied it, at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, the Jamaican patois reflects the geo-political history of our island, using English words yet employing West African syntax (grammar), and seasoned liberally with vocabulary and idioms reflecting our rich cultural mix. Despite the national treasure that it is, those who know the Jamaican Creole as their only language are often looked down on, as it marks one as uneducated, as standard English is Jamaica's official language.
'Jesus, Pretty in Me’ found me determined to celebrate all Christ had made me to be, stirred up as I was at that time, by the storms that accompany cross-cultural marriage and migration. Writing it afforded me a chance to explore some of the ideas with which every non-Caucasian ethnicity, introduced to Christianity in context of white Western culture, has had to grapple: Raising questions such as, Does God look like me? If He doesn’t, does He still care as much? If He does care, am I a sample of my type worthy of His regard and of significance in His Kingdom? And, an even more daunting query, Though I might be counted among the Redeemed, can He really be reflected as well through 'me'? Me unedited by society’s or my own sharp, re-defining pen? The answer to this last, I found to my great relief, is an eternally resounding 'Yes!'.
It is the message of the place of the Nativity—Bethlehem, 'the least among the cities of Judah' , the animal shelter, the rejected, the devalued, the set aside—the manger. This is the place The Eternal delights to reveal His glory, to proclaim and parade His Redemption plan, among the least of these. But the ‘least’ also need to embrace and walk out what He has worked in, living incarnationally.
The phrase ‘incarnational living’ might be fairly new terminology on the evangelical Christian landscape, but is an idea at least as old as the Creation itself. God's willingness to not only dwell with mankind, but also in us, requires our participation. It is Biblically sound Christian doctrine that regeneration happens immediately, at the point of conversion. Yet how we struggle to believe it, between the now and the not yet, as we confront ourselves daily in the Mirror of the Scriptures, the mirrors provided by society and even in our physical mirrors. Yes, the one on the bathroom wall.
It is amazing, the meaning with which we load the shape of head and eyes, texture and length of hair, prominence or breadth of nose, height, weight and yes, skin tone or shade, seeking to assay each other's value by external features. The conclusions we draw or transmit can help or hinder our progress in sanctification. Wrestling in prayer through some of these issues this Advent, the words of Watermark’s song ‘Come and make my heart Your home’, flooded in;
“Come and make my heart Your home;
Come and be everything I am and all I’ve known;
Search me through and through
‘til my heart becomes a home for you...
Let everything I do open up a door for You to come through..”
Twenty years ago I had gratefully, but with some anxious doubt, taken home what I thought was an incomplete Nativity set but God was in it. Jesus was nestled down, wrapped securely in a corner of the buffeted packaging. It took just a little careful unwrapping. Just as His coming was prophesied, He wrote about us in His book, before even one of our members was formed, said the Psalmist -Ps.139.
The intricacies of our make up were given expression and boundaries by Him. Yes, our forms also evidence the brokenness of sin, yet even those become fodder for His glory as they are yielded to Him in trust. As the light at Advent searches through the wood, hay and stubble of our hearts this year, and as we look in all the mirrors, may we know truth—He did not purchase us by accident. When He paid the price, He knew what He was getting, and considered the manger of our heart a fitting place for His abiding. May we allow His Spirit to carefully unwrap us this season and reveal Jesus, 'Pretty in us'.
* See blog post by the same name, 'Jesus, Pretty in Me', on this site, along with audio performance and translation.
I was afforded the opportunity to be interviewed by a wonderful sister in South Africa on the subject of 'Culture and Writing' for the Christian. It aired this past Sunday and I thought I'd share it with you. Enjoy! Denise