Sunday, December 18, 2011

The REAL Christmas Story—Rev. 12

There are two Christmas stories recorded in the Bible, and you probably only know one of them. It's the version told from Earth's point of view in Luke and Matthew, with Jesus in a manger, safe and controllable, shepherds, angels, snowflakes and kittens. Oh, perhaps I exaggerated those last two. But the world has remained enamored with that story, and the church just goes along. And I believe it's because it keeps God safe, in the form of a baby, which doesn't threaten us or call us to anything radical or dangerous. We can smugly enjoy life, safe in the knowledge that Jesus is gentle and unimportant except as a decoration.

How sad. We've missed the real story. Now some have drawn closer to the real story recently by pointing out that it's not His birth that matters so much as His death, and resurrection! He was born to die is true. The birth was merely the opening move in the story that leads us to the hope of salvation and conquering death, and having our sins paid for. So the cross over the manger is a better picture indeed.

But that's still not the whole story. And so we turn in our Bibles to Revelation 12. Now before we do, it's important to note that many scholars disagree with this take on it and ascribe symbolic terms and language, and say that it describes more likely the birth of Israel. But the scholars' first rule they teach us is to take the Bible at face value unless it's clearly not possible to do that. So let's try that here and see if it fits. This is, in my opinion, the Christmas story from Heaven's point of view, the one that we can't see.

"And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. . ." (ESV)

by Mastrangelo

 So we have a woman described in ways that perhaps only Catholics would ascribe to Mary, but as we read on, nearly all of us would surely agree that this could indeed be describing her. She's pregnant. There's a red dragon who has taken a third of 'the stars of Heaven' down to Earth. Well, we know that the enemy took a third of the angels with him, so that fits. That dragon now is poised before Mary as she gives birth to a male child who is to 'rule all the nations'...there is only one description that fits the ruler of all the nations, and that's Jesus. So there's our backdrop. We read on.

"Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."  Here we have a more full account of that dragon's rebellion and defeat, and being cast down to Earth along with his third of the angels. This clearly fits, so this isn't symbolic language at all, rather it is descriptive of what actually did happen. And now we have this tremendous cry, "And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." The birth is announced, and it clearly must be Jesus since salvation only comes from One, and He's the One! And the accuser of the brethren is none other than our enemy. And how do we achieve victory? By the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony! Only by His sacrifice and our belief or testimony in Him do we conquer the one who tries to conquer us. We trade our Earthly lives for an eternal one.

"Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." And now we arrive at the reason that this is not the more popular of the Christmas stories—for it's about war, and we're trapped in a story that isn't ended yet, and it's going to get ugly and require sacrifices along the way that we may not be willing to make. You have to love, "Rejoice O Heavens" (in other words, we've gotten rid of the rebel!! Woo Hoo!) But, "Woe to you, O Earth..." Right. It sucks for us, we get him now. And he is not happy. He is furious, enraged, and determined to war against Mary AND her offspring. Her offspring this time is not just Jesus, but is described as "those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." Yikes. That's US! 

Have you wondered why life is hard? How every time you find yourself at the edge of a great breakthrough, the floor drops out or the sky falls, and over the cliff you go? Well, we have an enemy who is continually making war against us. Rev. 12 says so, plain reading, no symbolism. We've been dropped into a war story, not a date movie, like it or not, and we'll have to fight for our very lives to survive. 

So, to be fair and accurate, if folks want to put up manger scenes, I'm all for it. Just add two things please: a red dragon on the roof, and a sword in the hand of baby Jesus. He is not safe. He is the victorious One that rescues us, and the fight begins the moment of His birth.

Merry Christmas indeed.