“On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love gave to me:
9 ladies dancing,
8 maids a milking, 7 Swans a Swimming, 6 Geese a Laying
5 Gold–en Rings
4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree”
Nine ladies dancing remind us of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul is writing a letter to the people living in Galatia to warn them about the struggle between feelings that draw us away from God, sin, and feelings that draw us into True Love’s presence where there is no law but blessing.
Today is Epiphany when we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to see the Christ child, the babe of Bethlehem. Their arrival is a “hands-on” example of the fruits of the Spirit. These “men” came from somewhere East of Jerusalem so had to exert themselves to make the journey-showing patience. They brought gifts-demonstrating love and joy. They left by a different route, trying to avoid conflict and trouble by not reporting to Herod of the babe’s location. The “slaughter of the innocents,” all the children under age two and the resulting flight of Joseph, Mary, and the babe to Egypt to live as refugees stand in stark contrast to the deeds of the wise men.
The desire of True Love’s heart is to bless and because we do not see with physical eyes his presence, we have glimpses of his activity when we see these Spiritual gifts being lived out. Likewise we pray for these character qualities to define our lives, integrating our faith with our actions. We seek to bless others as we seek to be obedient to the Holy Spirit within. We identify the godly by the presence of the “nine ladies dancing.”
Dancing implies activity and perhaps the author of the song wanted people to remember that our faith life is something that must be active and not just sit in a certificate in a dusty Bible or rest in our memories as a spiritual experience of ecstasy. We can dance alone but as the wise men travel together, we dance and live the gifts in community.
It’s hard to remember all nine gifts and often we just list the first three, love, joy and peace. Take a few minutes to look at the whole list and ponder the qualities you might pray for True Love to demonstrate through you in 2021. Self-control can certainly apply to dieting but it might also apply to control of my tongue in the presence of that person that gets to me. May the partridge dance nine-fold in our life journey this year as we face challenges. May we, like the wise men, be willing to bless the stranger, that we find in not-so-obvious, hidden away places like a manger in an unnoticed stable. May we live out the blessing! May the nine ladies dance in our lives!