On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking.
The song doesn’t say what they were milking. Goats or cows? But that doesn’t matter. These eight ladies were busily at work providing milk for the family (or for the true love). Luke 10 tells a story about Jesus that involves two sisters, one who sits at the feet of Jesus while the other busily works to fulfill the needs of Jesus.
As the story goes, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus to listen to his teaching. While Mary spent her time listening, Martha was distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40, ESV). Both of the sister’s activities seem to have merit. Who wouldn’t want to sit and listen to Jesus? And yet, if Jesus was at my house, I’d want to be sure that the house was clean, snacks were available, and that all of his needs were met.
So a problem develops, which is common among siblings. One does the work while the other lounges. At least that was Martha’s concern. Martha took matters into her own hands and told on Mary. She went to the boss (Jesus) and asked him to make Mary help with the work.
While this request seems reasonable, Jesus’s response was this: Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one good thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42, ESV). Instead of calling Mary out for being lazy, Jesus explained that Mary was doing the right thing. When given the choice to serve Jesus or listen to Jesus, she chose to listen.
This story used to bother me a bit, although I get it much more now. We can become so busy doing (even doing admirable things like serving the poor, volunteering for non-profit organizations, or caring for our own families) that we become distracted from the most important thing. We can put these acts of service above the One who matters, and that’s what Martha was doing.
We are just emerging from the Advent season, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. It is filled with food, fellowship, and fun, yet what really matters (or should I say Who really matters) falls by the wayside. We become more focused on wrapping, baking, and cleaning than on the birth of Jesus. Does this ring true to this story?
There’s good news, though. We have now entered a New Year, with the chance to begin afresh with our focus on what really matters. The twelve days of Christmas are upon us. We can still celebrate the birth of Jesus. So, let’s take a break from milking (or cleaning, or whatever steals your attention) to choose the good portion: to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He has to say.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.