Thursday, December 27, 2007

THREE FRENCH HENS
A Reflection for the Third Day of Christmas

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens…"

Three French hens = the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. French hens were considered valuable poultry in the 16th century, something only the rich could afford--like the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Scriptures to read: Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

BEYOND THE BIG DAY. Two days past Christmas Day, the realization of this journey to Epiphany begins to set in. It is a different rhythm than the usual post-holiday let down. At the same time we are usually beginning to put away Christmas decorations, this way of living Christmastime keeps the gifts coming and the celebration building. If you put everything into the Big Day, you may find yourself letting down emotionally and spiritually this week as you get back to routine matters. May this simple spiritual journey and the gifts you are receiving sustain and steady you.

ESSENTIAL GIFTS. Open today’s gifts—faith, hope, and love. The Apostle Paul distills these three gifts, or graces, as the most essential of all Spirit-given gifts. Strip away everything else that seems so necessary, all those "must-have" gifts, the ones so desirable to possess, the ones that make us feel good about ourselves and others feel good about us, the ones that make us feel needed or rewarded. What’s at the heart of this Christian journey? What is irreducible for discipleship? Faith. Hope. Love.

NOW RECEIVE. For those who observed Advent, you know that faith, hope, and love, together with joy, are at the center of the Christmas story – HOPE for a Messiah sustained longingly over many generations; the FAITH of Zechariah, of Mary and Joseph; the LOVE of God for the world expressed in Jesus; the response of JOY by all who drew near to "see this thing that has come to pass." In Advent, we learned about these gifts. But now--in the fulfillment of Christmas--receive the faith of Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Now receive hope for the in-between times (which is most of the time!). Now receive love enough to eclipse all hurts, forgive all sins, and forge the deepest commitments.

EXERCISE TO LIVE. What would it mean for us to move from teaching our children or loved ones about faith to offering them the gift of faith? How do we move from talking about hope to living and modeling hope? Why not quit trying to teach love; let yourself be loved and express unequivocal and unqualified regard? The reality of these core gifts is that we will never realize them unless we exercise them. Faith is not faith until you’ve trusted. Hope is not hope until I’ve lived from here to there in unflagging anticipation that what was promised shall be. Love is not love until we’ve opened our heart to risk forgiving or extending ourselves when reciprocity is not guaranteed.

FROM NOUNS TO VERBS. And it isn’t until we dare to move these gifts from being nouns to verbs that we realize that faith itself is more grace than effort, hope is more grace than will, and love is more grace than feeling. In the decision to act in faith, we receive it afresh. In the decision to hope instead of living down to lowered expectations, hope is born anew in us. In the decision to love, the love of God is unleashed in us all over again. No wonder these "French hens" are so valuable, so prized as gifts.

DIG IN. Explore this day's gifts further and engage a journaling exercise at my Living the Twelve Days of Christmas: A Spiritual Journey site.

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