December 25 to January 6 is known as “the twelve days of Christmas” and celebrates the time between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi. Neither date is a fixed historical fact but through the years these events have settled into tradition. The arrival of the wisemen is called Epiphany, a new insight, and the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christmas story. The Christmas story is not just a fixed holiday when we celebrate a historical memory, like President’s day, but is the beginning of an unfolding reality that has not only shaped history but has shaped our personal lives. There are many that also credit this song as a teaching tool for Christians when Christians were persecuted in the 17-18 century. I have read that in 1558 Catholics developed the song to teach the basic truths of Christianity. In any case, today is December 28 and we are going to focus on this song till Epiphany, January 6th.
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.”
“True love” is the giver, not someone seeking to impress us. For most of us we have had experience with false love, the broken promises, the nights by the phone or mailbox – waiting for a reality that never came. The promises were empty. Songs are sung about true love. God’s love is true love because he does not break his promises or his commitment to us. I love to use the example when visiting of a hand shake – in the mysterious handshake between the divine and us, the divine holds on to me when I am weak, when I don’t remember who I am, when the sky is so dark I cannot see, when I am overwhelmed with doubt, when… God’s love is true love even though we do not see his kingdom totally materialized now.
True Love “gave to me.” Love gives and does not grab. Love is patient and will wait till I open the gift. Love gave unexpectedly, in an unlikely way, to unassuming people – kind of like your life and mine.
True love gave a “partridge.” A partridge is a bird that will sacrifice its life to save its children. It is not a bird we talk about much except at Christmas but we do tell the story of the hen who, seeing the brush fire sweeping across her home, gathered her chicks under her wings and hunkered down. The farmer discovered the charred body of the hen and lifted the wings and out came the baby peepers. We are those little chicks that true love protects. When the trials of life threaten to destroy us, we need only scurry under the wings of true love and wait. True love, which gave Jesus at Christmas, protects.
The partridge is sitting in a pear tree. The pear tree is not a common image to me. I was surprised to read, “pear trees are considered images of prosperity, good health and future happiness.” The pear itself was compared to the female body, seeds deep inside, bearing the Christ child for humanity. Hummm??? It is true that Christ came of Mary. It is true that within each of us are seeds of creativity, of love, of talent – a gift to be developed and lived out for others. These seeds grow and produce life.
Today let us hold in our hearts that image of a partridge – Jesus – born of woman – the pear – and given by true love – God – to us to bless and lead us into our unfolding journey with him. Blessings as you hum!