Monday, December 14, 2009

Can You Hear The 12 Drummers?

You can’t live through many Christmas seasons without hearing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” You remember … “seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden riiiiiiiigs.”

(By the way, the twelve days of Christmas refers to the period between December 25th and January 6th. For many centuries, Christians exchanged gifts on January 6th, or Epiphany.

December 25th was the first day of Christmas and was usually celebrated at midnight on the 24th, in a Christ –mass. Thus, the English word “Christmas.”)

I had mentioned in an earlier blog about the old legend connected to this carol; the story that it was written during a time when it was against the law to practice Roman Catholicism in England. The legend claims that English Catholics used the carol as a mini-catechism (which is a method of teaching theology.)

Each line of the song was supposed to stand for some important doctrine.

The legend claims that the line about the “twelve drummers drumming” stood for the Apostles’ Creed.

What a great story!

I so much want it to be true.

True or not, believers must train their ears to hear the “twelve drummers drumming.” Otherwise we will never learn how to march to the rhythm of the apostles.

In contemporary culture, it has become increasingly difficult to hear the steady beat of our faith. The ancient beat gets drowned out by all the noise of contemporary life.

We also know that if we really do decide to march to the ancient beat of the twelve drummers, we are going to look very different than the people around us.

All of us – even Christians – are more naturally in step with the unbelieving crowd around us than we are with the apostles. The rhythm of those twelve drummers is so alien (when compared to the rhythms of contemporary life) that it requires a serious commitment to listen and adjust our movements to match their teachings.

I decided to dedicate my blogs to doctrine for a year because I wanted to keep my sermons and thoughts in tune with “that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God.” I am growing anxious that I will end up with three readers – two of them being family members who disagree with me! I wonder how many believers are really interested in exploring the foundations of their faith.

But that’s hardly the point, is it?

If I am trying to serve those who are searching for the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints,” then this exercise is certainly worth my time.

I need to remember – and I hope you will – that a study of doctrine can only become spiritually profitable, if it is much more than an intellectual exercise.

To gain anything spiritual from the study of theology, we must have a humble heart and a yearning for God.

Some of history’s greatest minds have dedicated themselves to the study of Christian theology. Nonetheless, theology cannot degenerate into a mere intellectual exercise. We must approach God’s Word “with our shoes removed,” as it were. We must approach the intellectual history of God’s Church believing, in spite of all the nasty stuff we encounter there, that the Church is what St. Paul claimed: “the pillar and ground of truth.”

Only with such attitudes will we have ears to hear and, by God’s grace, the courage to understand and obey, the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Only then will our lives become seriously impacted by the things we learn.

On December 14th, 1591, a Spanish poet and a mystic named St. John of the Cross, died. I disagree with several things he taught. I love his poetry though. John of the Cross’s grounding in Christian theology pours through nearly every poem. For him, doctrine and devotion ought to form a single pattern of life that works to bring one’s thoughts, actions, and art into harmony with Christ.

I am concluding my blog today with the Apostle’s Creed to help all of us do that same thing.

Please note that although in our church, we usually use the word “Christian” instead of “catholic” when we recite the creed, we do so in order to avoid the backlash of those who assume that “catholic” means “Roman Catholic.” The words original sense is important to the meaning of the creed however (and no other word fully communicates what the fathers intended) so I am sending the creed in its most standard and accepted form.

I would hope that those who have not memorized the creed will do so and then think about what each line says to you. As these blogs continue, you will be able to follow my thoughts as I meander my way through the central beliefs of the Christian faith.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell;

the third day He rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Saying "I believe" is a pledge to oneself of what “WE BELIEVE” as the Christian Church.

A pledge. Our security. Our guarantee.

"Communion in faith needs a common language of faith, normative for all and UNITING ALL in the same confession of faith." CCC 185

The Church teaches a person to say “I believe” when praying alone, and “We believe” when praying together, which makes perfect sense.

Although you talk a lot about the Apostle’s Creed (which is beautiful) I actually prefer the Nicene Creed because of the touching way it describes Jesus as being, “God of very God and light of very light – begotten, NOT made, being of ONE substance with the Father.”

I also like the unity added in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” because even though there are so many church denominations and church organizations, we are ONE in Christ, and it is He who makes His Church ONE.