Older versions of the song called them “colly birds,” among other things, but most versions of the song published in the last hundred years have named them “calling birds.” At any rate, the fourth day of Christmas is also the festival of the Holy Innocents. Like the festival of St. Stephen, this day reminds Christians that we are surrounded by evil and by many dangers in this world.
After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the east, following a star, seeking the King of the Jews. Some scholars think they came from Babylon and others from Persia, but there are two reasons to believe that these wise men (or Magi) were Arabs. First, the three gifts they brought are all native to Arabia. Second, the prophet who associated the coming King with a star was Balaam, who came from northern Arabia.
These wise men came to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews. Herod feared competition so much that he executed members of his own family because he thought they were plotting against him. Herod told the wise men to find the King and to let Herod know where he was. The wise men did find Jesus and his mother in a house in Bethlehem. (No, they were no longer gathered around the manger when the wise men arrived with their gifts.) Warned in a dream, the wise men did not return to Herod; also warned in a dream, Joseph took the child and His mother to Egypt. In his rage at being tricked, Herod ordered that all the boys in Bethlehem “that had not yet reached their second birthday” be killed. In this way, he hoped to eliminate the true King of the Jews.
God permits tragedies in this world, even as he works to overcome all evil. There was sorrow in Bethlehem over the death of those young boys, but protection for Jesus promises a joy that far outweighs the sorrows and tragedies of this world. In whatever struggles you are facing, may God bring you Christmas joy. For we do have good news of great joy—a Savior, Christ the Lord. J.