Wednesday, November 30- Christmas By the Numbers

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we begin a short, 4-week series about Christmas.) We think we know all there is to know about Christmas…but DO we? Here are some things you may NOT have known.
     Question: Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? 
     Overview: Jesus was almost certainly not born in the winter (scholars argue over whether it was actually in Autumn or Spring.) Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth. They were too busy preparing for His imminent return. The first recorded recognition of Jesus’ birthday was in 354 A.D. The word “Christmas” comes from the Middle English “Christemasse” and the Old English “Cristes mæsse”, literally meaning “Christ’s Mass”.

     Details: The winter solstice was on December 25 in the Julian calendar. (The winter solstice was the time when the sun was “reborn”.) Persia and India celebrated the birth of their sun god Mithras on December 25. Saturnus, the god of seed/sowing, was honored with a festival- the Saturnalia. It was later celebrated as Brumalia (“winter solstice”) Hoping to convert pagans, early Christians chose December 25 as their date. By the mid-4th century, many pagan celebrations had been absorbed into the Christian Christmas.

     Interesting Facts: The Julian calendar lost 1 day every 128 years- in 325 A.D., Christmas was actually on December 22nd. By 1582, it was on December 12th. That year, Pope Gregory XIII (he of the Gregorian calendar) restored it to December 25. Christmas was slow to catch on in America. Early colonists considered it a pagan ritual. In fact, Christmas was banned by law in colonial Massachusetts.

      Question: What’s the story behind “The 12 Days Of Christmas”?

     Overview: There are varying reports as to the meaning of this song. Here are 3 of the more common:
     Details: Legend #1- during the Middle Ages, it was a crime punishable by death to be a Catholic. A “coded” song was written as a mnemonic device to teach the Catholic catechism to children; each of the gifts are a clue:
“my true love” is God

“me” is baptized believers

“a partridge in the pear tree” is Jesus

“2 Turtle Doves” are the Old and New Testaments

“3 French Hens” are Faith, Hope, Love, the Theological Virtues in 1Corinthians 13

“4 Calling Birds” are the Four Gospel writers

“5 Golden Rings” are the 1st 5 Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch”

“6 Geese A-laying” are the 6 days of creation

“7 Swans A-swimming” are either the 7 Catholic sacraments (Baptism, confirmation, Communion, penance, anointing the sick/dying, holy orders, marriage) or the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (prophecy, ministry, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion)

“8 Maids A-milking” are the 8 beatitudes (Blessed are: the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, they who hunger and thirst for holiness, they who show mercy, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake)

“9 Ladies Dancing” are the 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)

“10 Lords A-leaping” are the 10 commandments (no other gods, no idols, don’t take God’s name in vain, remember the Sabbath, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet)

“11 Pipers Piping” are the 11 faithful apostles (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the Lesser, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot)

“12 Drummers Drumming” are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed (I believe: 1) in God, 2) in Jesus Christ, 3) He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried, and descended into hell, 5) on the 3rd day he rose again, ascended into heaven, and is seated at God’s right hand, 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead, 7) in the Holy Spirit, 8) in the holy catholic Church, 9) in the communion of saints, 10) in the forgiveness of sins, 11) in the resurrection of the body, 12) in life everlasting)
     There is a Scottish Variation on Legend #1, that goes like this:
Twelve for the twelve Apostles

Eleven for eleven who went to Heaven

Ten for the Ten Commandments

Nine for the nine bright shiners- an astonomical reference, maybe the sun, moon and known planets

Eight for the April rainers- the Hyades star cluster,  thought to bring in the April rains

Seven for the seven stars in the sky- the 7 Sisters, thePleiades star cluster

Six for the six proud walkers- perhaps a Biblical reference to Ezekiel 9:2 – six men with swords come in a vision to slaughter the people, whose leaders have committed sins

Five for the symbols at your door- putting a pentagram at the door to ward off witches and evil spirits

Four for the Gospel makers

Three, three, the rivals- could refer to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, or the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, or Peter, James and John- “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24).

Two, two, the lily-white boys, dresséd all in green, oh- Could be Jesus and John the Baptist or the Old and New Testaments

One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so- Probably God, although in the Middle Ages, God was more commonly thought of as the Trinity. (The lyrics of this version are, in many places, extremely obscure, and seem to be an odd mixture of Catholic catechesis, astronomical mnemonics, and pagan cosmology.)

     Legend #2- The song is simply a delightful nonsense rhyme, set to music and used as a “memory game”.

     Interesting Fact: January 6 is Epiphany, also known as the 12th Day of Christmas or 12th Night (Jan. 5th)

     Question: Were there REALLY 3 Wise Men?

     Overview: History depicts 3 Wise Men coming to the stable to worship the baby Jesus.

     Details: In the Bible, there is absolutely no mention of how many Wise Men came. The number 3 was chosen simply because that’s how many gifts were brought.

     Interesting Facts: In “The Travels of Marco Polo”, the adventurer tells of visiting a Persian city called Saveh. He says this is the city from where “the three Magi set out when they came to worship Jesus Christ”. He goes on to say that he saw three tombs “of great size and beauty”. In them were three “bodies…still whole, and they have hair and beards.” Historically, they are given names: Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names come from an early 6th Century Greek manuscript. The Wise Men didn’t get to Jesus until he was about 2 years old. Our Nativity scenes have it incorrect!


     Question: Why are there 5 Advent Candles?

     Overview: Advent wreaths traditionally have 4 “corner” candles and 1 center candle

     Details: The 4 “corner” candles are for the 4 Sundays in the season of Advent. (There are always 4 Sundays, based on the calendar.) The 5th center candle is the Christ Candle.

     Interesting Facts: The 1st candle is the Candle of Hope (the anticipation of a coming Messiah) and it is purple or blue (the color of royalty). The 2nd candle is the Candle of Peace (preparation for a coming Messiah) and it is also purple or blue. The 3rd candle is the Candle of Joy (elation for a coming Messiah) and it is pink (the color of joy). The 4th candle is the Candle of Love (adoration for a coming Messiah) and it is also purple. The 5th candle is the Christ Candle (for the arrival of the Messiah) and it is white (the color of purity).

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

  Tomorrow- O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Tuesday, November 29- Context Is Everything

     My wife and I are from southern Illinois- the St. Louis area to be exact. Her parents, as well my brother and one of my sisters, all live in the same area. So when Thanksgiving rolls around, we head down there from our home in central Illinois. Which means that the day before Thanksgiving found us in our home town. And the evening before Thanksgiving, we were in the local K-Mart. (I’m sorry, but you CAN’T go home again…that is…unless you go to K-Mart!)
     We were standing by the women’s clothing section (OK…my son and I were standing BY the women’s clothing section. My wife was IN the women’s clothing section!) when I looked toward the front door of the store…and saw someone I knew! Now you might think that is not such a surprise- it IS my hometown. I lived there for 37 years. I SHOULD see people I know. BUT…rarely do I actually see recognizable faces. It’s as if the community waited until I moved, then replaced everybody in town! So, I saw someone I knew. And, to make things more interesting, it was someone I knew…from where I live NOW…NOT from my hometown! And to muddy the waters further, the person I saw LIVES in my hometown…and yet I know them from my current town! Let me explain.
     The dad of one of the families in my church has a brother who lives in my hometown. They come and visit a few times a year, so I have gotten to know them over the years. SO, here I am, in my hometown K-Mart, and I see the brother of one of my parishioners walk in! Sadly, I couldn’t remember his first name, so I hollered out his LAST name! He looked up, around, and then right at me. I stood there, in my jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap, and waved. Now remember, he only sees my at church, in my shirt and tie. He looked at me, and there was obviously a moment of “Who ARE you? I should know you, but I simply can’t place from where!” Then I saw recognition bloom across his face. We talked for a moment and then went our separate ways. 
     As I continued to stand in the women’s clothing section…make that BY the women’s clothing section…I thought about that chance encounter, and the important role context played in it. Context is a fascinating thing. It’s the thing that makes you fully recognize, almost like an old friend, the woman who rings you up at the grocery store…when you’re AT the grocery store…but makes it so you can’t quite place her if you see her anywhere else. And that is such a weird feeling! “I KNOW that I know you…I just have NO idea from where!”
     I fear that context plays an important role in the lives of Christians, too. We see them at church, and we readily recognize them as Christians. They act like Christians. They look like Christians. They walk and talk like Christians. And we all know the old saying- if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck and quacks like a duck…it must be a duck! So Christians are easily identified…when they are within the hallowed halls of their local worship environment. BUT…are they just as recognizable when they are…anywhere else? Are we still recognizable as Christians when we’re at work? At school? At the store? On vacation? Do we act the same way all the time…or do we have a veneer we put up on each Sunday and then peel off and lean in the corner the rest of the week? We would LIKE to say that we are the same at all times and in all places…but is that true? 
     Ultimately, only you and God know the answer to that question. But I would like to challenge you this week to pay special attention to how you act in different situations. Then ask yourself, “Would people recognize me as a Christian, or is the context all wrong?”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Christmas By the Numbers

Monday, November 28- The Pitch Is ALL Off!

     Now it can be told! I was a bit of a…pain…in my younger days! But so that you don’t misunderstand, I was, for the vast major of the time, a “good kid”. I was NOT a troublemaker. I was almost never sent to the principal’s office. I got good grades. (Not as good as I COULD have, if I had actually tried harder.) No, my subversiveness was more along the lines of, shall we say, subterfuge! Let me explain!
     I was a “band” kid. (In fact, I am STILL a “band” kid!) I started playing the drums when I was 10 years old, and I have been “in band”, in one form or another, ever since. Why? Because I love it. I genuinely love it. There are few things in my life as satisfying, as “completing”, as making music. So, I have always been “in band”. By the time I got to my senior year, I was in nearly every band possible. (In fact, my last semester of high school, EVERY class I had was either band or theater…seriously!) 
     My high school band room was in an older building that had large pillars that were load-bearing. And when I say big, I mean 3′ wide on each side. There was a pillar that stood within about 10′ of where the band director stood when he was actually…well…directing! On HIS side of that pillar was a little table. On that little table was a tuner- a machine with spinning “wheels” that would line up when the pitch being received by the tuner was “in tune”. It was used to tune the band at the beginning of each rehearsal.
     The problem with drummers is, they often have too much time on their hands! One day it dawned on me that it would be really funny if the band was NEVER in tune…and I figured out a way to make that happen! I stood on the OTHER side of the pillar, hidden from view AND only about 3 feet from the tuner. When the director would have the whole band play their note to make sure they were in tune, I would whistle on the other side of the pillar. I would start on the same pitch the band was playing. But once I HIT that pitch, I would ‘slide” about a half a step down and continue whistling. The result was that, according to the tuner that was  picking up my off-key whistling, the band was out of tune. The director would stop the band, then go section by section, trying to find the group or individual that was off-key. But I wouldn’t whistle then, so NO one was off-key! But once he would go back to the whole band…I would whistle again! I was once able to keep him tuning the band for nearly 20 minutes!!
     As mean as that was (I AM sorry, but you HAVE to admit- it was inspired!), it reminds me of how things go in a church. If a church is all on the same page – “in tune” if you will – then they tend to do great things. Great ministries are carried out, great programs are offered, and lives are touched in a real, powerful and positive way. BUT, if a church is NOT on the same page – OUT of tune if you will – then those things tend to NOT happen. Those “out of tune” churches spend all of their energy bickering, fighting and jockeying for internal power- NONE of the things God calls us to do as the body of Christ. When we are able to let go of our own agendas, our own desires, our own goals, and truly devote ourselves to carrying out God’s ministries in this world, then we sync up- we are fully in tune. And when that happens…well…look out!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Context is Everything!