“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . .”
The first Christmas gift is Jesus, God with us, God in flesh – fully divine AND fully human. This gift is holy mystery. This gift is the beginning of our salvation and the promise of deliverance. This gift declares the incredible value of matter, of physical flesh and blood, of our bodies. The New Testament word for “save” is also the word for “heal”. The grace of God is for the total person and for the whole creation. “God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The first Christmas gift is Jesus.
And, our “true love”? Over and over throughout the Scripture, the language of the “beloved” is used for God’s people – whether in the person of a “Son” or in the image of a “Bride”. “My son, whom I love” is spoken over Jesus at his baptism and over everyone who is baptized “into Christ”. Throughout the prophets, God’s people Israel are described as God’s beloved Bride. That language crops up again in Paul and in the Revelation as an image for the Church. And, it is used in the Song of Songs, an erotic love poem historically read as both a primer for prayer (intimacy with God) and a celebration of human sexual love. The first Christmas gift, Jesus, with his life, death, and resurrection, is the supreme demonstration that we are God’s “greatly beloved” (a wonderful phrase from Daniel 10:18, in the New Revised Standard Version).
The twelve days of Christmas run from December 25 (Christmas Day) through Epiphany (the story of the Magi and the star), on January 6. “Christmas-tide,” this celebration of the love and gift and mystery of God, is just getting started!
One of my favorite hymns, full of Christmas and Eucharistic mystery, comes from the 4th century Liturgy of Saint James:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
Amazed at the mystery,