The True Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas


The famous song 12 Days of Christmas is more than just a crazy list of presents given over a two week period. Rather there are some powerful spiritual insights. Here are some thoughts from a sermon I preached one Christmas.

It is more than just a list of twelve silly gifts. Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829 were prohibited by law to practice their faith either in public or private. It was illegal to be Catholic.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as one of the “catechism songs” to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith. In short, it was a memory aid. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, young Catholics could sing the song without fear of imprisonment. The authorities would not know that it was a religious song. Actually, the Catechism to which it referred was rather ecumenical so could probably be claimed to be protestant if cornered.

The song’s gifts had hidden meanings to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The “true love” mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the church.

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . .” (Luke 13:34)

The partridge was known as a valiant bird— willing to FIGHT to the DEATH in order to defend it’s young—
He was fighting for you & I at the scourging post—
He was fighting for you & I as He carried that heavy cross up Golgotha’s hill—
He was fighting for you & I as He cried, “IT IS FINISHED!”

Even in the tomb He was fighting for us—
IN 3 DAYS He fought His way out of DEATH’S grip!
This bird’s readiness to DIE for it’s young made it an ancient Christian symbol of Christ!
Jesus still fights for us, even today—
He fights our battles…

He comes to our aid in times of need!
John 10:14-15
“I am the good shepherd…
I lay down my life for the sheep.”

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

Mark 12:29-31

New King James Version (NKJV)

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.[b] 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Prior to the 16th century, the common man was not allowed to read the Holy Scriptures for himself.

Historians call this:
“THE DARK AGES”
The Protestant Reformation & Martin Luther changed all of that—
In these two testaments,
God reveals Himself to a lost world!
All through the Bible, He shows us WHO HE IS!

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love

(1 Corinthians 13:13)

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

These costly birds also symbolized the 3 valuable gifts given by the three wise men—
Matthew 2:10-11
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
GOLD—the most valuable commodity in the world today representing His Kingship
FRANKINCENSE—used by Jewish High Priests as they would enter into the Holy of Holies- representing He is our Priest
MYRRH—expensive spices used for burials – Representing that He is our Saviour

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

Matthew: Jesus, the King of Kings
Mark: Jesus, the Suffering Servant
Luke: Jesus, the Anointed Man
John: Jesus, the Divine Messiah

John 20:30-31
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Like birds calling out with LOUD & distinctive voices, these four Gospels spread abroad the GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection!

Isaiah 58:1
“CRY ALOUD, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”

4 Calling Birds reminds us that we too, need to be trumpets—
Too many times we are SILENT TRUMPETS in a LOUD WORLD!

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

Gold rings are among the most valuable and treasured of all Gifts—
Engagement Rings, Wedding Bands, etc.
To be treated with great reverence & respect—

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

In many cultures, EGGS symbolize new life. 6 geese laying eggs become reminders of the six days of creation when God, by His Word, brought forth life on earth.
Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 31 “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

Not only did God create this world, but He also SUSTAINS it—
Webster’s Dictionary defines “sustain” as—
“to hold up and keep from falling”

The CREATIVE HAND OF GOD hung the sun, moon, & stars in the heavens—
…and He Placed the Earth in position and said, “STAY THERE!”
Jude 24
“(God)… is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy…”

Gen 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Seven Swans A-swimming
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;

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Just as baby swans grow and change from “ugly ducklings” into beautiful and graceful birds— So do God’s children grow and change through the work of the Holy Spirit!
In Acts 8:19, someone wanted to BUY the gift of the Holy Spirit!
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”

These various gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed for the benefit of the entire body of Christ.
Not just for one denomination—
Not just for one church group—
Not just for a limited number of “HOLY” people

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Eight Maids A-milking
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.

THEY NURTURE & STRENGTHEN US MUCH AS THE WAY MILK NOURISHES A CHILD!

Matthew 5:3-10

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In Luke the sermon on the mount follows immediately after what we might call the official choosing of the 12.

For that one reason, one scholar called it, “The ordination address to the 12”

Its like the Sermon on the mount is the core and essence of Jesus Teaching, the distillation of the DNA of the teachings of Christ’s ministry to the inner circle of the chosen.

This is talking about the norms of the Kingdom of God

– the culture

The word “blessed” means, “spiritual joy & satisfaction that LASTS regardless of conditions—
…That carries one through pain, sorrow, loss, and grief.

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruits 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 5:22-23
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

These are in OPPOSITION to the WORKS of the FLESH!
The FRUIT of the SPIRIT are VICTORIOUS!

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God’s name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

(Lords were men with authority to command people’s obedience.)
Ten Lords a-leaping symbolize God’s ten basic laws—
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!
You shall have no other gods before me
Do not make an idol
Do not take God’s name in vain
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy
Honor your father and mother
Do not murder
Do not commit adultery
Do not steal
Do not bear false witness
Do not covet

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

This reminds me to always stay faithful to God and to his cause.

This symbolizes the 11 apostles who were chosen by Jesus and remained faithful to Him—
Like children joyfully following a piper, these disciples followed Jesus—
They also called others to follow Him—They piped an everlasting tune of great joy—the salvation message!

These 11 apostles followed Jesus to the bitter end—All but one being martyred for their faith—
James—beheaded by Herod (Acts 12)
Philip—crucified in AD 54
Matthew—axed in Ethiopia AD 60
Andrew—crucified
Peter—crucified upside down in Rome
Bartholomew—cruelly beaten & crucified in India
Thomas—pierced by a spear and killed also in India
Simon the Zealot—crucified in Britain—AD 74
Thaddeus— He was crucified AD 72.
James, the son of Alphaeus—beaten to death at the age of 94

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Just as drummers beat out a loud, steady rhythm for marchers to follow, so the Apostle’s Creed sets forth the beliefs of those who call themselves Christians.

The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed:

1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].

5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

7) I believe in the Holy Spirit,

8) the holy Church,

9) the communion of saints,

10) the forgiveness of sins,

11) the resurrection of the body,

12) and life everlasting.

Although not written by apostles, the Apostles’ Creed reflects the theological formulations of the first century church. The creed’s structure may be based on Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a time when most Christians were illiterate, oral repetition of the Apostles’ Creed, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, helped preserve and transmit the faith of the western churches.

So that certainly puts greater light on just how powerful the 12 Days of Christmas song really is.

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Ps Peter Pilt



Categories: Sermon Notes

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17 replies

  1. “when most Christians were illiterate, oral repetition of the Apostles’ Creed, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, helped preserve and transmit the faith of the western churches”

    That was still happening in the literate 1950’s Peter and I still remember them word for word (almost) since those pre-Christian (for me) days.

    Sadly this seems no longer the case today having heard the 10 commands listed in church probably twice since I became a Christian over four decades ago and once was in the performace of a song. With people these days remembering less and less as they can always “Google” it on their smart phones I worry about the theological knowledge of the current and next generations.

  2. Very well done, I feel I was led here by the Holy Spirit, Bless You. , Mr. Pilt

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