The nativity of our Lord, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, is usually depicted as an idyllic, peaceful, almost beautiful scene, isn’t it? Proud new parents, cute lambs and goats, a nice clean barn, glorious angels and respectable shepherds. The reality was probably far from beautiful. Mary and Joseph were probably more than a little upset that no one would spare room for a woman in labor. A stable where farm animals live is hardly a sanitary place to rest, much less give birth. Initially those angels, those messengers of God, inspired fear, not joy (Luke 2:9) and shepherds – who lived and slept outside with their flocks – were hardly the first people you would invite to see your newborn child. And yet, as bad as the physical realities of Jesus’ birth was, there is an even more horrifying spiritual reality playing out behind the scenes. In Revelation 12 we get to see Christmas from God the Father’s perspective. It’s still a story of a woman giving birth to a son, but it’s the stuff of nightmares. A baby-eating monster is there, just waiting for dinner to be served. Before we hear the beauty of the Christmas story from the lips of children, let’s spend a few moments considering the reality behind our Savior’s birth. Because when we do, we will see how Jesus’ birth is a wondrous sign of God’s wondrous love.
Whether you know the book of Revelation like the back of your hand or you’ve never read it before, you must understand that it is what we call ‘apocalyptic literature.’ Apocalyptic literature, like impressionistic art – is not intended to convey how things literally were – there was not a literal dragon standing there in front of Mary – but rather it uses vivid imagery and symbolic language to describe a hidden reality.
So what does the imagery and symbolism mean? Given that the child being born is Jesus, we might conclude that the pregnant woman is Mary. However, the fact that she is wearing a crown of twelve stars (related to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles) and that she has the moon as a footstool (symbolizing authority) – this woman is not Mary, but the Church – all believers of all time. Genealogically, Jesus was the child of Israel, the descendant of Adam, Abraham, and Isaac – who is still received by all believers. (Luke 3:23-37; Romans 9:5) Later in this chapter we are told that the enormous red dragon is that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray (Revelation 12:9) – and the fact that he wants to replace God in human hearts is symbolized by the seven heads and seven crowns he wears. (The Greek word for crown – diadem – refers to that which was worn by pagan leaders who wanted to be worshiped as gods.) Satan is real and he is really powerful and he wants to rule us in God’s place, and the truth is that if Christmas is the only time you hear the Word of God – you are under Satan’s power, whether you realize it or not! (Matthew 12:26-30)
Satan knew from the beginning that Jesus would come to destroy his power to rule mankind (Genesis 3:15), and so he wanted to strike as soon as possible – he wanted to devour Jesus the moment [he] was born. And Scripture tells us how Satan repeatedly tried to have Jesus murdered. He led Herod to slaughter all the baby boys in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16-17) He tempted Jesus to commit suicide in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11) He so consumed the heart of Judas that he betrayed his Savior. (Luke 22:3) But through it all, God kept his child safe – in the end, snatched [him] up to God and to his throne in his ascension (Acts 1:1-11) where Jesus is not only safe from the devil’s power, but rule[s] all the nations with an iron scepter. (Ephesians 1:19-23) Finally, the woman and the 1,260 days. The woman is, as we’ve said, the Christian Church – and the 1,260 days represent the NT era – the time in which the Church wanders here on earth, but is fed and preserved by God in Word and Sacrament – before God takes her home on the Last Day.
So what’s the point of all this? How is the reality that Satan was licking his chops at Jesus’ birth a sign of God’s love for us? Well, would you ever intentionally place your child in such a dangerous situation? Today we keep our kids in car seats almost until they can drive themselves and on our health insurance until they’re 26. We do all we can to protect our children. But God the Father intentionally sent his Son to face this unspeakable danger. Why? God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) God sent his Son into the devil’s backyard to save us. God loves you so much that he sent his Son into a situation none of us would ever put our children in. Is that how you measure God’s love for you? Or does your estimate of God’s love fluctuate with your bank account, your health, the number of gifts under the tree or size of the problems in your life? If you don’t belong to a Christian church, do you notice that Christians don’t necessarily seem any happier, healthier, or wealthier than the rest of the population – and then think “where is the evidence that God loves those people?” Those are inaccurate and – actually – Satanic measures of God’s love. It’s wrong and sinful to measure God’s love by our earthly circumstances. Whenever you hear the Christmas story, don’t just see the barn and the animals – see the devil standing there, ready to devour God’s Son – that is how much God loves you!
The divine twist in the story of salvation is that while God ensured that the devil could never destroy his Son – the Father himself did. God the Father took our sins against the 10 commandments, our failure to love him above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves, he took our sins of doubting God’s love for us – he took it all and laid it on his Son and hung him on a cross and consumed him in the wrath that we deserved. As wondrous a sign of God’s wondrous love as the manger is, it pales in comparison to the love he showed by sacrificing his only Son in our place on the cross. With evidence like that, evidence written not just in black and white, not just in words coming from some guy in a robe or from little children, not measured in health or wealth or happiness – but written in the blood of God’s Son dripping down a wooden cross – how could we ever doubt that God our heavenly Father loves us dearly?
So keep this in mind as you hear the Christmas story from the lips of children. Don’t forget that while the scene might appear peaceful and the songs are sweet – God loved you so much that he not only risked his Son’s life, he took his Son’s life – to spare and save yours. A truly wondrous sign of his wondrous love! Amen.