Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Swans a Swimming

A Reflection for the Seventh Day of Christmas

"On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… seven swans a swimming."

Seven swans a swimming: Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1. prophecy, 2. ministry/serving, 3. teaching, 4. exhortation/encouragement, 5. giving, 6. leading, and 7. compassion

Read: Psalm 133; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

HALF WAY. We are half way on our spiritual journey to Epiphany. Thus far, using the 16th-century song developed to mimetically teach catechumens core elements of the Christian faith, we have received six precious gifts:
1) Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh.
2) The Old and New Testaments.
3) Faith, hope and love.
4) The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
5) The Pentateuch or Torah, and
6) The six days of creation.

KEEPS ON GIVING. What are we doing with these invaluable gifts? Or, what are these gifts doing in us? These are not the kind of gifts that lose their luster or wear out. We may lose interest in them, but they never lose interest in us. These Christmastide gifts are ones that keep on giving, ever beckoning, ever inviting us to receive them afresh and to be transformed.

GIFT UPON GIFT. Go ahead, open the seventh gift. What is it? Oh, it is a gift! What is inside that gift? Oh, another gift! And what is inside THAT gift? Hey, another gift! And another. And another. And another. And still another. You get the feeling that you could keep opening boxes inside of boxes, gift upon gift. Such is the multiplicity and diversity of spiritual gifts.

EMPOWERING. The specific gifts recalled on the seventh day of Christmas since the sixteenth century are those listed in Romans 12: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion. Many more could be named. But whatever the gift, it is vital to know this: spiritual gifts are given for the sake of empowering people of faith to join in sharing Good News, bearing grace, and making real—here and now—the anticipated Kingdom of God.

COMMUNITY-BUILDING GIFTS. The spiritual gifts described in Romans 12, as well as in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere throughout the Epistles, are essential gifts for forming, sustaining, and extending community. Spiritual gifts are about community. Not about personal advancement. Not about possessing. A spiritual gift is not a spiritual gift unless it is selflessly shared. A community will thrive when graciously given gifts are freely and strategically shared. What better follow-up to Christmas than for gifts, great and small, to be turned toward serving and building up the community?

USEFUL THOUGH LESS DESIRABLE. It has become an inadvertent tradition in our household to keep a few opened gifts on the skirt around our Christmas tree for days after the 25th. Big gifts get whisked away, played with, put on, plugged in. But to this day a few small ones remain under the tree: a box of fireplace matches, a bottle of cologne, a couple of games, a basket of crafts, a book, a flashlight, a quote-a-day calendar. Not expensive or necessarily the most desirable gifts, but useful ones just the same. They remind me of the diversity and usefulness of spiritual gifts, particularly less desirable ones.

KNOWN IN ACTION. Like the faith, hope, and love received on the third day of Christmas, the gifts we receive today are spiritually perceived, inwardly apprehended, and entirely relational. Perhaps we will never know our gifts--or what impact on a relationship, neighborhood, church, or community we can have--until we start to serve, to give, to lead, to show mercy, to teach, to encourage, and/or to declare what is burning in our hearts. Why not start today?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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