Saturday, January 02, 2010

C, Christmas 2 - John 1:1-2, 14, 16-17; Ephesians 1:7-8, 11-14 "Grace upon Grace"

Today is the Second Sunday after Christmas, and it's also the tenth day of Christmastide. Christmastide is the twelve day church season from Christmas Day to the eve of the Epiphany on January 6th. And it's from where we get the seemingly trite carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

For the sake of time we'll hear just the last verse which summarises all that's given in increasing number over the 12 days.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree!

But the carol has deeper meaning than what we first might hear. The carol contains a code that reveals God as a gracious giver, who lavishes us with gifts, one blessing after another - a giver of grace upon grace.

From John's Gospel we hear, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:1-2, 14, 16-17)

However, for many today Christmas has become not so much about God and the gifts he lavishes upon us in all his grace and glory. But rather Christmas has become a melting pot of pressure and things we have to do in a terrible hurry.

A parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas is the Twelve Pains of Christmas and perhaps you might sigh as you see yourself with, at least, just some of the trials this song portrays.

The twelfth thing at Christmas that's such a pain to me: Singing Christmas carols, Stale TV specials, Batteries not included, Finding parking spaces, Children wanting stuff, Charities, Facing my in-laws, Five months of bills, Sending Christmas cards, Hangovers, Rigging up the lights, And finding a Christmas tree!

This "me-centred" consumer Christmas is not a very nice picture! But with all parodies their humour comes about because there's a sense of truth hidden in the humour. Perhaps this parody is more realistic than we would like to admit. Such is what Christmas has become in a world where Jesus Christ is taken from Christmas.

So if Christ is removed from being the centre of Christmas and its glory and the season becomes "me-centred", perhaps we should call the season "christ-is-me" instead of Christmas. And if that's the case then Christmas is an anti-Christmas. Because when we're placing ourselves at the centre at Christmas, we come against Christ, becoming antichrists! We end up doing all sorts of things to glorify human egos rather than glorifying God.

However, returning to the regular Twelve days of Christmas carol, we hear twelve times in twelve day "my true love" is giving. Who is this true love? Of course we know our true love to be God. God is love, his being is the perfection of love. Our being is human and flawed with our desire to love on conditions, and it's fleeting at best. But God's love is pure, powerful, self-giving, all-encompassing, and his love is eternal.

In his love, God gives! He gives of himself out of love for us. But this love God gives to us is not a love bound in feelings, but rather is a love which comes to us in a real way that benefits more than just our emotions. His love is a love that's practical, physical, spiritual, and as we've already heard, it's eternal - it never stops! But the greatest thing about God's love is — it's for you, for us, and for all people!

The twelve days of Christmas is a festival of God's love lavished on us. His love for you is unfaltering kindness and generosity. It's a gift and it's the most useful gift one will ever get. It's a practical gift! It's a spiritual gift! It's a physical gift! And this gift is Good News! This gift is God's one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and through him we are lavished with even more gifts. From the one gift we receive a Pandora's box of gifts. One might say, "Gifts upon gifts!"

In fact, these gifts upon gifts come from the fullness of God's grace and truth. Each day of this twelve day season your true love, your true Lord, gives upon giving. Favour upon favour, blessing upon blessing, gift upon gift, grace upon grace!

In the song The Twelve days of Christmas what is given on the first day is also given on the second day with the second day's gift. And these gifts continue to flood each day onwards so that on the twelfth day we have received gift upon gift.

Do you realise that this is an eternal progression? What you received in baptism on the first day to the glory of God, you have received every day since! You have received blessing upon blessing, forgiveness upon forgiveness, salvation upon salvation, and unfaltering kindness upon kindness. And it will continue despite your sinful nature, because of the fullness of God's love towards you. And this fullness is found in Jesus' death on the cross.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:7-8, 11-14)

For us in these twelve days of Christmas and beyond, our job is to continue to allow the Holy Spirit access into us to continue pouring the blessings on God's love upon us. We do this by remaining focused on Christ and the forgiveness he brings us. If we forbid the Spirit and the faith he brings then we walk precariously towards the cutting ourselves off from God's grace and the guarantee of our inheritance.

So let's see the multiplying effect of the twelve days of Christmas as our grace upon grace eternal gift from God as we unlock the song.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus born a baby on the first day. Two turtle doves are the two Testaments of God's Word. The third day our true love gives us three French hens, which are faith, hope, and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) The greatest of these being love, because it's God's being and unlike faith and hope will continue in eternity.

Then four calling birds given on the forth day are the Gospel proclamations of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John! And on the fifth day of Christmas, the five golden rings are the five books of the Law, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The six geese-a-laying represent the six days in which God laid the foundation of creation. Seven Swans A-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11).

Eight Maids A-milking are the eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Nine Ladies Dancing are the nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness, 6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Today is the tenth day, the day of Ten Lords-a-leaping, and they represent the Ten Commandments. Eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful Apostles. And on the twelfth day our true love, our True Lord, gives us Twelve Drummers Drumming the twelve part confession of the Apostles Creed.

So surging and snowballing from the fullness of Christ is grace upon grace. Let the Holy Spirit carry you in the eternal crescendo that centres on Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection for you. As you think of the Twelve days of Christmas remember the eternal reality hidden in the song; the grace upon grace God gives to you!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true Lord gives to me… The Apostle's Creed confession; Eleven disciples preaching; Ten Commandments guiding; Nine fruits of Spirit; Eight beatitude blessings; Seven holy gifts; Six day creation; Five books of Law; Four Gospel records; Faith, hope, & love; The New & Old Word; and our Lord Jesus born a baby.