On the Lord of Dance
[Mic.5:1-4; Heb.10:5-10; Lk.1:39-44]
As Christmas approaches, I wonder – have you been singing The Twelve Days of Christmas? ‘On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping …’
Yes, I wonder too about these leaping lords. They remind me of the Maasai people of East Africa. Have you seen their traditional jumping dance, the adamu? The men form a circle, one enters the middle and he starts jumping up and down as high and as elegantly as possible.
It looks strange, but this dance is rich with meaning and purpose. It’s used to mark the rite of passage of a person from one stage of life to another, such as when a young man becomes a warrior or when he’s ready to get married.
I remember wanting to leap with joy at key moments in my life, too, like when I fell in love and got married, when we had children and when I was ordained.
But who are these leaping lords that ‘my true love gave to me’? Some say The Twelve Days of Christmas was written to teach children the Catholic catechism, at a time when our faith was illegal in England. The 10 lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments, and the ‘true love’ is God himself.
Jesus says we can summarise these Ten Commandments by loving God and loving each other (Mt.22:37-40). It’s really quite exciting when we discover that God truly loves us; it feels almost too good to be true. For so many of us, that’s the moment when our lives change and we really do feel like leaping for joy (Rom.5:9-11).
That’s what happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is so mean that he makes Bob Cratchit work in the cold on Christmas Eve. When Scrooge gets home, the ghost of his business partner warns him that his life needs to change.
The Ghost of Christmas Past then reminds him of his childhood and how he loved money more than his fiancée. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him how his meanness is hurting others, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come terrifies him with visions of his death.
On Christmas morning Scrooge wakes up and he’s delighted to find that he still has time to change his ways. He laughs and dances around the room and says he feels as ‘giddy as a drunken man’.
He’s still got time to change his ways. He laughs and dances around the room.
He buys a turkey for the Cratchits, he donates money to the poor, he goes to church and to his nephew’s party. He’s transformed into a generous and kind-hearted person, and the change makes him want to leap with joy.
In Luke’s Gospel today, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, near Jerusalem. Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, John leaps in her womb.
Why does he do that? It’s because he feels the powerful presence of God. He’s not even born yet, but already he senses his life’s work: to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ. So he leaps with excitement.
But Mary’s heart leaps with joy, too. She realises what God has done for her, and she breaks into her famous song of praise, the Magnificat (Lk.1:46-55).
These leaps mark the arrival of the Kingdom of God and they announce the start of a new way of life for us all.
When we dance, the boundaries between our body and soul disappear and we begin expressing what’s often much too deep to say in words. St Ambrose said that dance lifts the body above the earth into the heavens.
St Francis of Assisi often leaped about with joy at unexpected moments, simply because he loved God so much.
And when the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments, was brought into Jerusalem, King David was so overjoyed that he started dancing (2Sam.6:14-22).
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I’ve told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (Jn.15:11).
That’s what happens when we’re touched by the hand of God; when we realise just how much he loves us. A new stage of life begins and we feel like leaping … dancing … with joy.
So, as Christmas approaches, we sing:
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.