Four calling birds opens the fourth day of Christmas. At this point, we become victims of modern English. Anciently, the song spoke of four "colly" or "collie" birds. Slang for "coal" a colly bird was essentially a European black bird, a counterpart to our American Robin and a member of the Thrush family. What does this all have to do with anything? Colly birds were known for their beautiful singing. Of course, at this point, I am refraining from telling you the legend of the American Robin, perhaps in a future posting. The colly birds or calling birds represent the four Gospels in the New Testament. Remember your Sunday School lessons. There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The first three are called the synoptic Gospels because they basically give a synopsis of the life of Jesus and by and large very similar. The fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, is more a theological treatise about Jesus. The last Gospel to written and one of the later books of the New Testament, the writer uses Jesus' life and teaching to reveal Truths about Jesus. Most poignantly is the teaching of Jesus' preexistence. "In the beginning was the Word (the second person of the Godhead...Jesus), and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1:1 ESV)
The Gospels are revered writings of the New Testament, as they record what is considered the words of Christ. In many churches, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) included, the people will stand as the Gospels are read in public worship. Many Bible translators record those words using red print and scholars enjoy arguing about whether or not they really are Christ's actual words. In that I am not a scholar, it isn't one of my favorite things about which to argue. They are in the Canon of Scripture, so that pretty much settles it for me. Each Gospel reveals Christ from a different perspective. Mark, the oldest, records Christ's life from his Baptism through his resurrection, although old copies of the Gospel end at the crucifixion. Mark presents the acts of Jesus' life. Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and that he is the Messiah. Luke is the social justice Gospel and is considered by some to be the Gospel to the Gentiles. In Matthew, Jesus the descendant of David, in Luke his lineage is traced to Adam, the father of humanity, and that we are all the sons and daughters of God.
Reading the Gospels is an invitation into the day to day life of Christ. They allow the Christian to, like the disciples, walk with the Master. In Greek education, the students would sit at the feet of the teacher and the Gospels allow us to sit and hear the teachings of Christ for ourselves. I often am asked how we might know Christ better. A good place to start is to simply read the Gospels.
The word Gospel in Greek comes from the same word from which we get the word "evangelist" and is closely related to the word "angel" which simply means "messenger." The four calling birds remind us of the messengers of God who have us the teachings of Christ. They also encourage us, in like manner, to be the messengers of God as we share the good news of God's love through Christ Jesus. May the four calling birds invite you to learn at the feet of the Master, the Teacher of humanity and rise to share His good news with the world.