2nd Day: Turtle Doves & St. John

Two turtle doves.

Pigeons and doves I’m familiar with (pigeons obnoxiously almost everywhere you don’t want them; doves at funerals and papal pictures).  Turtle doves are migrating birds common to Europe, Asia, and Africa, crossing the equator to live perpetually in summer. Smart idea if you have the wings (frequent flyer miles?) and stamina for it. Quite handsome if the picture is any indication. The name has no relation to the shelled animal we call “turtle.” It’s said to come from their song “turr-turr-turr“.

St.John the Evangelist by El Greco

Actually, we in America don’t have turtle doves, so you’ll have to import a pair if you want to gift your true love. (Distinct from the mourning dove, which is found in the USA; perhaps she/he won’t notice the difference.)

The two turtle doves are sometimes seen as symbolic of the Old and New Testaments. Given today’s feast, John the Evangelist, they might better symbolize the two natures of Christ, as emphasized in the prologue of his Gospel, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Read the whole of John Chapter 1; no matter how familiar you think you are with it, it still sounds new and fresh. Good News indeed!

At Christmas we rightly tend to concentrate on the infancy of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Celebrating the Feast of John the Evangelist on the Second Day of Christmas, reminds us to step back and see the “big picture”: that little Babe in swaddling clothes is the Eternal Word of God’s Love, spoken in our language, the language of humanity.

A few years ago, I gave a three-session series of talks on the Infancy of Jesus in the Gospels (with a bonus on the lore of the apocryphal gospels and St. Nicholas). If you find time over the next eleven days, you might enjoy watching them.

And here’s my homily this morning on St. John the Evangelist.

Back on turtle doves, there’s a wonderful Jewish sephardic singing group called “Voice of the Turtle,” referring to the older translations of the Song of Songs 2:11-12, “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

(Some of these songs may sound familiar to those who were with me on the Early Christian World Pilgrimages to Turkey. Sephardic Jews are those who were expelled from Spain in 1492 by the “Catholic” monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, and many were warmly received by the Sultan Bayezid II into various parts of the Ottoman Empire, including Istanbul. He valued the skills these refugees brought and is reported to have commented negatively on the intelligence of the Spanish rulers who, with one stroke, so enriched his empire and impoverished their own.)

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