Symbols of Victory

“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.” —Galatians 4:4-7

It always strikes me how many people are so eager to put up Christmas decorations, and crank up the Christmas music so far in advance of Christmas, only to take them down almost immediately once December 25th passes. We start to get concerned when neighbors leave up their Christmas lights on their houses longer than a week after Christmas Day. Perhaps we learn this or are conditioned by department stores, which display Christmas products earlier and earlier, and begin promoting Valentine’s Day on December 26!

However, we really DO celebrate 12 days of Christmas—it’s not just a catchy song. And, today marks “The Ninth Day of Christmas.” But I’m guessing your “true love” did not give to you “nine ladies dancing” today!” (Yep. Now that song’s stuck in your head, too!)

There are legends about the origins of that song. Whether or not such legends are true, I don’t actually know. But if they are true, then each gift given stands as a symbol of some teaching of the faith. The “true love” is God, and the “nine ladies dancing” symbolizes the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Again, though, there’s no certainty as to the veracity of that legend—nice as it is. But, I recently read a portion of a sermon from a fifth century bishop, St. John Chrysostom. “Chrysostom” means “golden-tongue,” and this Church Father lives up to that nickname, speaking and writing truths of Scripture so eloquently. In this sermon, Chrysostom doesn’t mention nine ladies, but he does speak of two! And he does so in a beautiful way to describe the incarnation of our Savior, who makes us heirs with Him.

Here, then, is a portion of St. John Chrysostom’s homily:

“Learn now [how Christ triumphed over the devil] and you will be even more amazed, for using the very weapons that the devil used to conquer us, Christ vanquished him! Once He seized his weapons, He triumphed over him, and listen now to how He did it: A virgin, wood, and death were the symbols of our defeat. 

“The virgin was Eve, for she knew not man. The wood was the tree [in Paradise], and death was Adam's penance. But behold, a virgin, wood and death ― the symbols of our defeat ― became the symbols of our victory. For instead of Eve, we have Mary; instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have the tree of the Cross; instead of Adam’s death, we have Christ’s death.

Do you see how the devil is vanquished by the very weapons wherewith he vanquished us? By the tree, the devil vanquished Adam; by the Cross Christ conquered the devil. That tree led to Hades, whereas the Cross led back from thence those that had been led there. And again, that tree hid the captive’s nakedness, whereas the Cross revealed to all the naked Victor from on high. Adam’s death condemned his descendants, whereas Christ’s death raised all that had preceded Him.”

I love the imagery and the connections Chrysostom uses. As we continue this season of Christmas, carrying out these last of the “12 days,” we recall Christ’s mission and purpose for coming. “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption…” He came, using the very weapons and tools the devil used against God’s creatures in order to reconcile us to Himself!

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” may or may not contain symbols of our faith; the jury’s still out on that issue. But, as an old preacher has pointed out for us, “the symbols of our defeat”—a virgin, wood, and death—have now become “the symbols of our victory!” Thanks be to God who gives us that victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, who became one of us that we might be one with Him!

Come soon, Lord Jesus! Amen!

Written By: Pastor Jonathan Meyer