• Herods of Judea – Matthew 2 & Revelation 12.1-12

    The Villains of Christmas

    I love Christmas time. At our home, we watch a Christmas movie nearly every night in December. Some Christmas movies are good for a few laughs, others make me cry, and others are totally ridiculous. Christmas movies make a lot of money, I’m sure, because Hollywood keeps cranking them out.

    But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, no Christmas movie today makes any mention on any level of Jesus Christ. Almost all of the Christmas movies are instead connected in one way or another to a guy in a fluffy red suit. (Who, incidentally, looks and acts suspiciously like the old pagan Norse deity Oden.)

    Now, I’m not against Santa Claus. And the fact that Jesus is absent from Hollywood scripts doesn’t surprise or bother me much – I’ve never expected Hollywood to do anything but oppose God, it’s their unstated purpose, and they do it very well. They just want to make a buck off Jesus like everyone else. It’s sad, but no surprise.

    One thing Hollywood does get right, however, is their use of villains in some of the Christmas stories. Whether it is Jack Frost in Santa Clause 3, or Harry and Marv in Home Alone, or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, every really good script has a villain of some sort. Even the stories that don’t have an explicit villain include some reference to a villainous lack of  “Christmas Spirit.” They know how to spin a yarn up there in “tinseltown.”

    Most people forget, but the real Christmas story features one of history’s worst villains: Herod the Great.

    Herod was as bad as they come. His method for keeping power was to kill anyone who got in his way. So he killed his mother-in-law. Then his brother-in-law. Then his beloved wife. When he heard a rumor that two of his own sons were planning to overthrow him, he killed them. Later when he found out that the rumor was false, he killed his son who told him about it. When Herod was on his deathbed in Jericho, he summoned all of the nobles in the land to be there when he died to have them executed – Herod wanted everyone to mourn when he died instead of celebrate, and he figured such an awful massacre would do the trick. Fortunately, the nobles were not executed, and history records that there was a lot of rejoicing when Herod died. But you get the idea – Herod was a bad, bad person.

    The idea that he would slaughter all of the male children under two years in Bethlehem is absolutely consistent with what we know of Herod.    

    But, as awful as he was, Herod was not the real villain in the Christmas Story. Herod was a mere a pawn in a much bigger conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. You see, there is another villain working behind the scenes at Christmas. Unlike Herod, that villain is alive and well today. I am talking, of course, about the dude in red – not Santa Claus, but the red dragon of Christmas – none other than satan himself.

    Sanitized Nativities

    We read about the red dragon in John’s Christmas account. You Bible scholars are shaking your heads right now, because you know that only Matthew and Luke’s gospel have an account of the birth of Christ. John’s gospel doesn’t include a Christmas story, but the book of Revelation, which John also wrote, does.

    (Read Revelation 12.1-12)

    Of course, there are other layers of meaning to Revelation 12, but on the face it seems to also reflect Matthew’s account of an evil power out to destroy the holy child. On at least one level, the great crimson dragon in Revelation 12 represents none other than satan himself, the prince of darkness and the accuser of the brethren. And if we suspect for one second that satan takes Christmas off, we are sorely mistaken. Christmas is the devil’s favorite holiday. When else can he get people to utter the word “C-H-R-I-S-T” and mean it less? When else can he sow such desperate seeds of loneliness? Or convince us that we can find joy by acquiring more and more treasures that will be moth-eaten and rusty before next summer?

    When we tell the Christmas story and leave out the dragon, it loses all its power, and is only a sugar-plum fairy tale.

    This Christmas, among the peace-loving sheep and cattle in our manger scene, I have added a tiny dragon figurine too. I know it sounds strange, but I put it there to remind myself – not only were there shepherds and angels and wise men at the first Noel, but the devil was there too, seething with rage at the birth of the Messiah, stirring Herod to slit the throats of helpless babies, eager to sabotage the plans of God to save the world.

    We can never forget that, from God’s perspective, Christmas marks the beginning of the decisive battle for our liberation from darkness and despair. And Christmas it is a battle, not a holiday. Each and every Christmas the devil works overtime to devour the true meaning of Christmas – and to get rid of Jesus altogether. Hollywood and Amazon are working overtime at old red’s direction.

    As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have …” Ham? Toys? Candy? Clothes? Sugar plums?

    No: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10)

    The Covert War

    It is hard to remember in the midst of all the celebration just what we’re celebrating … and that is exactly the devil’s plan. To distract us from what we really need right now – the love of God.

    If the prince of darkness cannot devour the Son, he will do everything he can to obscure Him. Has Jesus been uninvited to his own birthday party in your home this year?

    It is the dragon’s strategy to bury the true meaning of Christmas. If he cannot devour the child, he will obscure him behind wrapping paper and decorations, movies and consumerism. Someone in a red suit really has come to town, and he is not right and not jolly; no, not at all.

    You’d better watch out. The red dragon will be there at your Christmas table, at your staff Christmas party, in all of your Christmas movies, even under the tree. He is working overtime snuff out the Holy Spirit in your life this Christmas. The dragon will turn your eyes upon cheeses instead of Jesus.

    The red beast will provide you with every kind of false, temporary joy in the form of toys and presents and songs and parties in order to rob you of the real joy that comes from knowing you are loved by God.

    He has already pulled all mention of Jesus from your favorite Christmas movies. He is going to whisper in your ear and stir up old family feuds. He is going to try to fix your mind on your loneliness rather than on the friend you have in Jesus.

    The devil will be working overtime, craftily attempting to distract each of us from the true meaning of Christmas – that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16)

    Do you know how to triumph over the dragon? Revelation 12.11 says it is By the blood of the lamb and by the word of your testimony.

    In other words, there is a simple way to join the Christmas victory this year, to defeat the dragon and restore the real Spirit of Christmas: by the word of your testimony. In other words, tell the story of what God has done for you!

    This Christmas, before you open gifts with your family, why not read the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2 first?

    Before you share your family meal, won’t you pray together, giving thanks for God’s provision?

    After the meal, why should we be intentional and dedicate the first part of the conversation to “Yay Gods” – encouraging everyone around the table to share at least one of God’s blessings. Take charge of your home. Don’t let the devil have Christmas. And with every “Yay God” spoken around our Christmas tables, the red dragon of Christmas will be put in his place, struck down further and further.

    Never to return again. Until next Christmas, of course. It will be a battle every year until the Lord returns and finally hurls the dragon down forever.

    For now, however, I am sad to report that the dragon will succeeding at obscuring Jesus in the hearts of many the Christmas.

    Even so, the faithful should take courage – we are promised that, in the end, the dragon, satan, will be cast down forever, the Messiah will win, and the real Spirit of Christmas will forever reign in men’s hearts.

    Listen to what the Apostle John, the Evangelist and Revelator reveals:

    Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
    “Now have come the salvation and the power
       and the kingdom of our God,
       and the authority of his Messiah.
    For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
       who accuses them before our God day and night,
       has been hurled down.
    They triumphed over him
       by the blood of the Lamb
       and by the word of their testimony;”
    (Revelation 12.10-11a)

    May this and all your Christmases be triumphant!

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