THE EIGHT MAIDS-A-MILKING
We’re too blessed to be stressed…even in a holiday season.
Eight maids-a-milking…the eighth gift in the song the Twelve Days of Christmas…is the theme of the Monte and Carolyn Holland 2014 Christmas ornament (each year our Christmas card is a hand-made ornament). NOTE: Each illustration uses one of my seven sisters, plus myself, our heads superimposed on pictures of maids-a-milking.
The eight maids a-milking addresses two of the major themes of fifteenth and sixteenth century English celebrations and parties during the Christmas holidays – food and romance.
Typically, the work of milking cows (and goats) was a woman’s job. Although milk was not a common beverage during this pre-refrigeration time (it spoiled too quickly), milk based products did not spoil so rapidly. Cheese, sour milk, and custards—which were prized treats for celebrations.
And the word maid? It’s a shortened form of maiden, a young, unmarried woman.
This combination of milking and maid lends itself to the idea that a gift of eight maids-a-milking might have more to do with romance than with cows.
During this time period the term go a-milking did have strong romantic connotations. Men used the term when they wanted to propose marriage (or a sexual encounter) with a woman. It was a kind of a code word to test a woman’s response—if she reacts negatively, he can always say he thought she might like to help him with the cows, and they could laugh.
Remember, the gifts in the popular Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas each signify a Christian message.
So what do the maids-a-milking signify in the popular Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas?
Interestingly enough, it is a code word for the eight Beatitudes that introduce the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5:1-12.
The Sermon on the Mount, preached by Jesus, starts with a list of eight Beatitudes:
- v. 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit.
- v. 4 Blessed are those who mourn.
- v. 5.Blessed are the meek.
- v.6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
- v. 7 Blessed are the merciful.
- v. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart.
- v. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers.
- v.10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (And v.11 Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.)**
Below are listed three thoughts on the Beatitudes:
- Each is a poetic and exquisitely paradoxical meditation on how to live a life of faith in a world of doubt…In lilting beauty and fluid verse, the Beatitudes sanctify those qualities in us that are the very antithesis of success as we in the West have come to understand (and pursue) it…”^
- Erik Kolbell is convicted that these Beatitudes are not a completely new genre, sprung fully from the imagination of Jesus. Rather, he speaks of Jesus as Rabbi and notes the Jewish roots of these blessings. At their best then, they are not about creating a new religion but about reviving an old one.^
- Jim Forest argues that there is an interconnectedness and deliberate ordering of the Beatitudes: they are eight crucial aspects of faithful discipleship with “a ladder-like structure, with poverty of spirit the essential starting point and with the cross at the top…The Christian life is climbing the ladder of the beatitudes—and when we fall off, starting once again.^
The Beatitudes are about being blessed. But what does blessed mean? Below is listed three views:
- Makarioi, the Greek word translated as Blessed, is difficult to translate in English. The Good News or Today’s English Version translates it as “Happy”.*
- The root words from Hebrew and Greek that are translated as Blessed carry the meaning of Bending the knees and to worship, adore, and praise. Thus, when we sing Blessed be the Lord we are symbolically bending our knees to praise and worship God.*
- According to William Barclay Jesus probably spoke these words in Aramaic, a kind of language in between the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, which was spoken in Jesus’ day. The verb “are” is missing in the Aramaic, so the meaning is something like O the blessedness of the poor in spirit.”*
The Beatitudes, both then and now, are revolutionary statements that open our imaginations, invite us into a moral revolution^, and challenge us because they take the accepted standards turn them upside down.^^^ The countercultural nature of these words feel like “repeated mental jolts,” conflicting with conventional wisdom that commends corporate ladders, good families, wealth, and consumerism.^ Yet the
Truth always has a way of clashing with the status quo…(asking are you) in sync with a world that is so out of sync with God? No one in their right mind would say that the meek–of all people–would inherit the earth. Jesus’ Beatitudes are counter-intuitive.**
One writer dares to state he must confront the uncomfortable fact that he doesn’t really like the Beatitudes. I’m not poor, I’m not hungry, and I’m not particularly sad. I’ve hardly experienced any meaningful rejection or scorn or persecution because of my Christian faith. Moreover, I don’t want to be or experience any of these things if I can help it!^^
Doesn’t that sound like our thoughts?
Is Jesus really saying that if you are this way, or you do these things, then all these good things (in the Beatitudes) will happen to you—including heaven when you die? Or, as in Luke’s version, if you aren’t and you don’t, you’re in trouble? Does even faith in Christ matter less than these things?^^
Maybe we’re reading the Beatitudes wrong… The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.^^
But then, the Beatitudes are NOT a prediction of what will be if we do certain things. Rather they are a proclamation of what IS NOW when one lives this way. That is, there is a kind of Joy, a Godlike Joy, that is evident when we live in a right relationship with God. This joy is Grace, a gift of God that is independent of circumstances or changes of life. It is a byproduct of dependence upon God for everything.*
The beatitudes, then, are not excuses for injustice—they are the warrant to go and work for justice. They are not passive instructions on how to cope with suffering—they are a reminder that while we may suffer, we do so because we are actively working for a reality that turns the world on its head.**
They are explanations and illustrations drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.^^
The Beatitudes are not so much a recipe for happiness or blessedness as they are a description of the Christian life. ^^^ They are “blessed” promises which lead us to rejoicing.^
So this Christmas season rejoice. Celebrate. And continue on your journey to living the life Christ came to share with us.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR.
NOTE: The 12/2/2014 weekly writing challenge was countdown: find a way to breathe new life into the established genre of the end-of-year countdown list. This post is based on the list of the 8 Beatitudes.