Songs of the Season: The 12 Days of Christmas

Today’s song inspiration for the season is a popular one, one that’s had different versions created, but the original has lasted.  It’s the 12 Days of Christmas, and it’s a song about the 12 gifts that a gentleman gave to his true love.  The 12 gifts were:

1 partridge in a pear tree
2 turtle doves
3 French hens
4 calling birds
5 gold rings
6 geese a-laying
7 swans a-swimming
8 maids a-milking
9 ladies dancing
10 lords a-leaping
11 pipers piping
12 drummers drumming

This song can teach us many things.  It’s one I can hear again and again because it’s so different from what we hear in all songs written today, and everyone sings it a little differently, even if the words are the same.  I also am amazed by it because I don’t know who came up with the idea that these were the best gifts to give, even for the years of the late 1700’s when it was originally written.

This song also can say a lot about the holiday season we’re in.  Yes, it’s a Christmas song, “Christmas” is in the first line of the song.  But Christmas is just one day according to the calendar (even if different countries celebrate it on different days).  The idea of giving gifts over 12 days is a reminder that we don’t have to cram all of our celebrating into one day, and that it’s OK to celebrate for many days this month.  I also see a connection between it and Hanukkah, because it’s celebrated over 8 days each year, making this song a reminder that those who celebrate Christmas aren’t alone in celebrating this time of year, unlike during other holidays.

The song also says a lot about relationships.  I love the idea that this person was so in love with their true love that they wanted to give 12 expensive gifts.  These gifts may have cost over $10,000 in the late 1700’s, and today they cost over $30,000.  Most of us don’t spend that much on our significant others, but everyone enjoys getting more than one gift (even if that one gift is very special), so the idea of 12 gifts is certainly a simple ballpark to plan around.

Finally, in line with relationships, the song is a reminder that this season we’re in and we finish each year with is all about love.  It’s an opportunity to show love through gathering together, giving gifts, decorating together, making memories together and also donating of our time and resources to those who are less fortunate.

What would your 12 gifts that you would give to your true love be?

Peace and Quiet

This year for December’s devotionals I’m going to be sharing about the topic of Advent. If you’re not familiar with Advent, it’s a tradition that’s been in religious circles for hundreds of years, most typically practiced with an Advent wreath that has candles around it (typically 4 candles around the wreath and one in the center), although there are other traditions. For those who do celebrate Advent with a wreath, the candles can signify different things depending on the faith group you belong to, and I’ve always associated the Advent wreath and candles with some specific words, which we’ll be talking about throughout the month.

While it’s not a traditional week one topic, I wanted to start the month by talking about peace. For people of faith one of the first words that comes up when we think about Christmas is peace. There’s always been an association of Jesus in the manger with a peaceful, perfect night with some gentle sheep and local shepherds gathered around. Rarely is giving birth a quiet, peaceful experience, and if you’ve been around an infant, there’s some peace and quiet, yes, but there’s also noise and smells and needs to take care of that often interrupt sleep for the adults. The same is true for sheep, they aren’t exactly great at creating peace with the noises and smells that they make.

Peace is sometimes about our circumstances, including that picture perfect moment we imagine in the manger or that moment we’re all gathered around a Christmas tree. But peace is also found in the words of Psalm 46:10 which says “”Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” and Luke 2:19 which says “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (after the shepherds stopped by and told them about the angels).

We each have a choice how we approach and take in this holiday season. We can choose to be bringers of peace into the world, or we can choose to add to the chaos. I would encourage you to celebrate this holiday season with the wonder that Mary experienced and take the time to be still and experience all that is going on around you, and all that God is doing too.

Reality Reflection: Seeing the Signs

The other week I was at the grocery store and saw they had zip bags on sale and decided to pick up a box of the gallon ones. They weren’t on my list but I couldn’t remember the last time I bought any, so I got them. Fast forward to this week and late Friday night after the shopping and such had been done, I discovered the kitchen had been invaded by ants. Exactly what anyone and everyone wants at the end of a busy holiday week. Not to mention the work I still had to do and sleep I hadn’t gotten and had thought I was about an hour from. Several hours, several large storage bags and the box of gallon zip bags later, I had it mostly under control, with some help from some bug spray and a hard object or two.

Closets are one of those things that you look at and say, yea, I probably should clean that occasionally, but it is quite a bit of work to take it all out (although it’s less work when you’re not fighting with ants at the same time). As I stood to survey the scattered kitchen in the light of day today, I reflected on the ant I had seen earlier in the week but not thought much of and on how thankful I was to have bought the bags and have other large zip bags always on hand.  It was a reminder that the universe, God, and others all send clues in our direction. Sometimes it’s something to tuck away, say about Christmas gift ideas. But other things like ants are a little stronger wake up call that something needs to be checked or addressed.

Which also got me thinking about the mixed bag that Christmas can be and the signs and reminders that are so visible and apparent this time of year. Shopping can be an extremely stressful endeavor, some people are in such a rush and somehow don’t care or see that everyone else is right there with them, and it can be stressful if you have to get together with people you don’t really know or like. You also can’t forget the stories of Scrooge and the Grinch, and think of people in your life who may be like them sometimes.

When the stress is overwhelming us and we’re dealing with unpleasant people, it’s important to take in the signs around us and remembered what the season is supposed to be about. If Mary and Joseph can deal with all they did before Jesus was born, I think we can wait a little in line at stores. If we hear Christmas songs, it should remind us to celebrate, to give, to love and find joy in our hearts. Putting up ornaments and decorations that have been passed down should be an opportunity to remember and honor those people. Pay attention to the signs in your life, it may help you have your best Christmas season ever.

Songs of the Season: Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

Every Wednesday to the end of the year we’re going to take a look at a seasonal song or hymn. With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, today we’re looking at a harvest festival hymn written in 1844 called “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” The first verse is the one that most people recognize if they grew up or currently spend time in more traditional churches, and the one we’ll focus on today:

“Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!”

The first word reminds us to gather. That’s what the first Thanksgiving in the US was and that’s what we do with Thanksgiving today. In this day and age we’re able to do so much living from our homes: we can have just about everything sent or brought to us. But this song is a reminder of how important it is to gather together and celebrate all our blessings.

Also highlighted in this hymn is the change of seasons and why we celebrate when we do. We’re just past the end of the regular growing season for our part of the world in the US and winter is starting to show, which is a perfect time to celebrate how successful the growing season was, especially since many transition to a slower pace of life in this new season.

The final part of this verse is a focus on God. Yes, we can be thankful for other people, the things we accomplish together, and the things we individually accomplish, but even behind all of those things is God supporting everything. So much of what we celebrate on Thanksgiving, the harvest and our blessings of food, relies on the weather, something that none of us really has control over. We have some influence over the harvest, but God also plays a big roll. It’s a reminder to thank God for all that He supplies us with, and the blessing and promise of the future Jesus died and rose again so we could have.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

A Psalm of Thanks and Celebration

As we head into this week of Thanksgiving celebrations (including giving thanks for big deals and discounts from our favorite companies), I wanted to talk today about the words of Psalm 100. You may have read them recently, heard them preached on this past Sunday, or read an article about them recently, it’s a popular passage for Thanksgiving reflections. Why? Let’s take a look at it:

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

The chapter starts off where all thanks should begin, and that’s with God. Even if you don’t have much to be thankful about this year, you can be thankful for God’s presence in your life and the (good) plans He has for you. It also begins with a reminder to worship God, something we may struggle with between non-church commitments that seem to conflict with church opportunities. Then it reminds us to make time for joy, and to remember that God made us and knows who we are and what’s going on in our lives and the plans He has for us. And just as He is our God, we are His people. It’s a unique relationship that we’re so blessed to have because few relationships with someone in the position God is in (like a CEO or billionaire or other big public figure), are as close and intimate as ours can be with God.

The second half of the chapter is a reminder to celebrate and why to celebrate. Thanksgiving is a day about celebrating the life we have, the country we live in, the people we love, and all the other blessings in our lives. It’s a time to thank others and thank God for their role in our lives. As to why we celebrate? Love is one of the best reasons out there, both God’s love and the love we can have for each other. If you ask anyone who has loved and been loved, they’ll tell you that nothing compares and they would rather know love and have lost it than to never have loved. Fortunately, God isn’t planning on stopping loving us anytime soon, so for generation upon generation we’ll be able to celebrate God’s love for us.

What are you celebrating and being thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Reality Reflection: making an effort

I don’t know if you’ve been following the presidential impeachment story at all, or if you’re only aware of it going on and trying to avoid the details, but it’s clear to everyone how much effort is being put into this and how much attention it’s being given. If you believe that the president has really done something worthy of being impeached, it’s important to make sure he is held accountable and here in this country we believe in due process, so all of the effort going into it makes sense. If you don’t think it’s worth all the effort or don’t think that he did anything wrong, you may feel that all of this is a huge waste of time and effort.

What I’ve really paid attention to is the amount of effort and attention being given this situation. As we’ve established if it’s all true then yes, it should be given attention and effort. But there are lots of other things in the world that much of the population has no idea about or doesn’t realize how serious it is or what the impact on our future could be. Thanks to the internet and number of mobile devices we’re able to spread the word much easier than before, but with the sheer amount of information shared each day, it’s very hard to get something to go viral or really alert many people to a situation.

On a much smaller scale, if we all invested the effort we put into following the impeachment proceedings or some other news-worthy situation into our lives and the challenges we face or things on our to-do list, could you imagine how much less stressed or frustrated we might be? Could you imagine how many good ideas would be created and implemented that could help solve some of the big problems people in the world are facing? Maybe for the first time we can remember in a long time, we might be confident about the state of our world and the relationships we have with the people we share it with, and the future we’re creating for our successors.

I encourage you to think about the effort you’re investing in different parts of your life and if your investments are really producing the results you desire, or if there are better ways for you to invest your time, energy and resources.

Combining Old and New

Can you believe we’re almost to another holiday season? Holidays are interesting because they’re a mix of new and old, traditions that have been around for years and the creation of new traditions, ornaments and decorations we’ve loved for years and new ones we’ve found in our travels, and gatherings of new friends and memories of those who have moved or passed in the last year. Maybe this year you’re going to return to traditions that you loved in the past or maybe this is the year you do something completely different. There isn’t any rule really except that you make time to celebrate with those you love (including yourself).

The concept of mixing old and new is a great one to apply to victories. Sometimes victories are made when we do the tried-and-true thing. Other times we have to remember the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting different results), and know that we have to do something different if we want a different outcome, and want to actually get to a victory instead of getting stuck as we have in the past. Sometimes there is a degree of luck that goes into our victories, especially with things that we can’t control like the weather, but most of what brings us to our victories are things we can control or have a sufficient level of influence over.

Doing something new can be exciting, but it can also be scary. There’s a huge level of unknown that we have to face when adding something new to the mix, so it’s expected to feel some fear. One way to combat those feelings of uncertainty and fear is to find excitement in the process, just like we feel a feeling of excitement even when we add new things to the mix when it comes to the holidays. Focusing on the excitement of what you’ll gain when you accomplish the victory can help you keep going even when moments of fear and uncertainty arise.

This holiday season I encourage you to try something new, and to make some new plans for the new year ahead. Doing something new doesn’t mean you have to leave behind all that you love, it means balancing keeping what you love and works well for you and losing what’s holding you back and add in what will make life easier, better or more rewarding. What new things are you planning this holiday season?