27 December 2023

Daily prayers during
the 12 Days of Christmas:
3, 27 December 2023

‘On the Third Day of Christmas … three French hens’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Day of Christmas and the Church Calendar today celebrates Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, the author of the Fourth Gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation (27 December 2023).

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a verse from the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘Faith, Hope and Love’ depicted in a window in a window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield … often interpreted as the meaning of Three French Hens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The 12 Days of Christmas: 3, Thee French Hens:

The Third Day of Christmas, 27 December, is marked in some parts of the Roman Catholic tradition as the Feast of the Holy Family, but it is the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist in the Book of Common Prayer throughout the Anglican Communion. This is the second of three Prayer Book Holy Days immediately following Christmas Day.

The third verse of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, begins to show some metrical variance:

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
three French hens,
two turtle doves,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the three French hens as figurative representations of the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love: ‘And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.’ (I Corinthians 13: 13)

Other interpretations say the three French hens represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the three gifts of the Wise Men, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

There is a custom in some places of blessing wine on this day and drinking a toast to the love of God and to Saint John. The theological virtue of love is intimately associated with the story of Saint John, the disciple Jesus loved.

Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians 6 (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that Saint John continued preaching even when he was in his 90s and was so enfeebled in old age that they had to carry him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher. And when he was no longer able to preach or to deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on every occasion and say simply: ‘Little children, love one another.’

This continued on, week-by-week, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed. Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out.

Every week the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: ‘Little children, love one another.’

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: ‘John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?’

And John replied: ‘Because it is enough.’

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. ‘Little children, love one another.’ If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one: ‘Little children, love one another.’

As far as John is concerned, if you have put your trust in Christ, then there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over again: ‘Little children, love one another.’

That is all he preached in Ephesus, week after week, and that is precisely the message he keeps on repeating in this letter, over and over again: ‘Little children, love one another.’

Faith, Hope and Charity depicted in a window (1865) by William Wales in the nave of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 21: 19-25 (NRSVA):

19 After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ 23 So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Saint John depicted in statue on the Great Gate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 27 December 2023, Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Love at Advent and Christmas.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (27 December 2023, Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist) invites us to pray in these words:

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist. May we strive to be ‘pillars of the Church’ as he was.

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching
of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that the Word made flesh
proclaimed by your apostle John
may, by the celebration of these holy mysteries,
ever abide and live within us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Faith (left), Hope (right) and Charity (centre) depicted in a window in memory of Isabella Stephen by Ward and Hughes in the south aisle of Lichfield Cathedral i(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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