What Exactly Are "Four Calling Birds?"
The Fourth Day of Christmas
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Reflection: We have seen that three signifies Divine perfection, with special reference to the Trinity: The Father, one in sovereignty; the Son, the second person, in incarnation and salvation, delivering from every enemy; the Holy Spirit, the third person, realizing in us and to us Divine things.
Now the number four is made up of three and one (3+1=4) and it denotes, therefore, and marks that which follows the revelation of God in the Trinity, namely, His creative works. He is known by the things that are seen. Hence the written revelation commences with the words, "In-the-beginning God CREATED." Creation is therefore the next thing—the fourth thing, and the number four always has reference to all that is created.
Like the fourth stanza in the Christmas carol, there is much misunderstanding and confusion about the creation. The “Four Calling Birds” in this stanza is due to a mix up between the English language, as spoken in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the English spoken today. The verse, four calling birds, is actually a corruption of the English word colly or collie. So, the song is actually referring to four colly birds or four collie birds (the words to the song were probably written before the creation of the dictionary, so the spelling of old words tends to be flexible).
In the beginning God CREATED. The creation was not the result of evolution, an odd occurrence of chemistry and physics or a big bang. The fourth day saw the material creation finished (for on the fifth and sixth days it was only the furnishing and peopling of the earth with living creatures). The sun, moon, and stars completed the work, and they were to give light upon the earth which had been created, and to rule over the day and over the night (Genesis 1:14-19).
· Four is the number of the great elements—earth, air, fire, and water.
· Four are the regions of the earth—north, south, east, and west.
· Four are the divisions of the day in Scripture—morning, noon, evening, and midnight.
· Four are the seasons of the year—spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
· Four are the great variations of the lunar phases.
In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) the kinds of soil are four; but three are characterized as being all alike in contrast to the one (the wayside, the stony ground, and the thorns). These are all unprepared! But, the one is characterized as good soil because it is prepared and results in three complete or perfect harvests (thirty, sixty and hundred fold)!
In the Lost Son's welcome (Luke 15), three things were material (the robe, the ring, and the shoes); while one was moral (the kiss). God's four-fold witness in the earth (Hebrews 2:4): three are impersonal (signs, wonders, and miracles), and one personal (the gifts of the Holy Spirit).
The three traditional feasts of the Twelve Days of Christmas reflects in different ways how the mystery of the Incarnation works itself out in the body of Christ. December 26 is the feast of St. Stephen—a traditional day for giving leftovers to the poor. The feast of St. John the Evangelist, commemorated on December 27, is traditionally celebrated because John was the only one of the twelve disciples who did not die a martyr. Finally on December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children murdered by Herod, is celebrated. The feast of the Holy Innocents remembers the victims of abortion, of war, of abuse and renews the belief that the coming of Christ brings hope to the most hopeless.
The fourth feast (the feast of the Epiphany—think three plus one) is usually celebrated on January 5. The fourth feast speaks to us living out the Incarnation, to witness to the light of Christ in the darkness. In actuality the fourth feast is the spiritual feast Christ declared in John 6:48-57: I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
Prayer: On this fourth day of Christmas I declare You, Lord Jesus, to be my feast. This new feast is not to be merely annual but frequent as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11:25, "do this as oft as you eat and drink in remembrance of Me." You are the living bread of heaven. I partake again of Your mercy and grace. I consume You and Your Word as water to my thirst, milk and bread to my body and meat to my bones. In Your Name I pray, amen.