Despite our Living Nativity running up until Christmas night, traditionally the celebration of Christmas begins now and runs for the next twelve days followed by Epiphany or Three Kings Day on January 6th. In some cultures the exchange of presents takes place on Three Kings Day. When my parents lived in Puerto Rico, for example, they found that the tradition there was not to send Christmas cards but instead to send Three Kings Day cards. The first record of the church observing Christmas on December 25th was in A.D. 336. We do not know for how long it had been observed on that day before that year though we know that birthdays were not very important in the early church. It was in A.D. 567 that a church council proclaimed the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany as a sacred and festive season. The exchange of presents on December 25th only became popular in the 1800s. Thus “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was published in England before it was popular to give presents on December 25th. It was first printed without music as a chant or rhyme in 1780. And today many people know the twelve gifts in this cumulative song. But before we hear how much those gifts cost this year, let’s look at those presents wise men brought to Jesus on the first Epiphany.
You don’t need to exchange presents for twelve days nor to abandon December 25th as the day to do so in favor of January 6th, but you might reflect on the reason for this season.
That the season lasts twelve days reminds us that the wise men took a long journey to find the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and offer Him presents. The trip itself was part of their offering to the newborn King of Kings. We do not know exactly how long it took them, only that it was less than two years. Nevertheless, these Gentiles from the east travelled a great distance to come and see the one they called the King of the Jews. When they arrived and found this Jesus they offered a sacrifice of praise – rejoicing exceedingly with great joy. Then they gave an offering of obedience – falling down and worshiping Jesus. Most memorable to us were their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These three presents were very expensive. Altogether then the wise men offered their time, their travel, their treasures, their thanksgivings, and themselves.
The old carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” is also a costly proposition. PNC has been calculating the price of purchasing the gifts mentioned in the song since 1984. Nine of the twelve items cost the same thing as last year. The Lords-a-leaping demand a slightly better pay increasing three percent, the turtle doves are up 11.5 percent apparently because of an increase in grain prices, and the partridge in a pear tree is more expensive by 3.5% because PNC says that partridges are growing in popularity in backyard farming and as a gourmet food. This year the true love who repeats as the song suggests will be out $155,407, which is up almost $900 from last year. It is only an increase of 0.6 percent. If you want to buy online it will cost you $196,477.70. So you save over $41,000 if you do not shop on the web. But no matter how you look at it these gifts add up to be an expensive proposition for a true love. Of course, that is on purpose. True loves will give cheerfully and generously to their lover – not only with such treasures but also of their time, travel, thanksgivings, and themselves.
When you consider how much Jesus gave for us, you might just find yourself imitating the impulse of the wise men or the true love in the song.
The eternal Son of God stepped out of eternity and into time being conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary; He traveled from heaven above to be with us on earth; though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich; indeed, His life and death are gifts to you. Jesus gave you His time, talents, travel, treasures, and Himself. His blood on the cross is priceless – we could never afford it. You are His true love and though He is your king, He came to serve you. What Jesus gave for us is nothing less than amazing. And it is a free gift. It is not one that we deserved. Indeed, we deserved eternal separation from God because of our sins. It is really free. There is no fine print. (So how do we respond to such a gift?)
You imitate the impulse of the wise men and the true love. This is not an imperative. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m simply reporting what Christians find themselves doing because they are so thankful for their salvation but even more thankful for their Savior Jesus Christ. You find yourself offering sacrifices of praise to God and His Christ, you find yourself offering Him gifts of great value to you, you find yourself falling down and worshiping Jesus, you find yourself looking at this life as a spiritual pilgrimage or journey, you find yourself spending time with God and His people and sharing your God-given talents with others. You find yourself offering yourself to God for His purposes and to bring Him glory alone. And you do this all without expecting anything in return – not because you really want something out of God or because you think you need to prove yourself worthy to receive His gifts. The real reason for the season of twelve days is to set apart some special time to offer your praise, feast and fellowship together, worship together, and even find yourself using all of the gifts that He has given you for His purposes. But no matter what your Christmas traditions in the past, the present or the future might be, these are the elements that are there not just for a day but for a season and by practicing them for a season you create patterns that may just carry you through the year. Thanks be to God. Amen.