Friday, December 28, 2012

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

In the imagination of church tradition the four calling birds refer to the fourfold call of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

There is more than one way to respond to Jesus. And we will find more accounts of them than four if we take to heart Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospels, “I have still more to say to you,” as we grow in his Spirit, although not until then (John 16:12). So it is that on the brink of travel to the new world, our Pilgrim forefather, the Rev. John Robinson, said, “The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.”

While God has more to say – “God is still speaking!” – holy Word has already been spoken in the four Gospels. These are considered “canonical,” originally meaning “measuring line, rule, and standard of excellence.” Of all the accounts of Jesus available at the time, the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were selected as the best – just as everywhere in ancient times particularly beautiful birds were selected as the best representations of glory, exaltation, favor, and help from on high.

How do each of the four Gospels call to you from on high? At root, all offer much the same story. But in Matthew we receive the forms of the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer that have become practically Christian ID badges. Mark proceeds at a breathless pace and the word “immediately” recurs, describing his feeling about responding to Jesus now, not later. Luke begins by placing Jesus and the story of Christianity in the broader context of history. John’s Gospel soars above the others in grandiosity, setting the backdrop of a cosmic event.

Just “four birds” representing four altogether human authors. But how beautiful! What a gift! Beginning with who we are and just what we have, our own gifts can soar, too!

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