(Note: This is a more concise, therefore better, version of the "Herods of Judea" sermon which had been given on December 23, 2018. This shorter version was presented the following evening on December 24, 2018, when Spring Valley Community Church joined with our dear friends at Central Congregational Church of La Mesa for our annual shared Christmas Eve Candlelight service. The photo on this blog entry was a complete fluke - I snapped it at the Cambria Nursery/Garden three days later on a family getway to Cambria, California. Who knew Christmas dragons were a thing? -Steve Babbitt)
The Villains of Christmas
At our home, we watch a Christmas movie nearly every night in December. Some are good for a few laughs, others make me cry, and others are totally ridiculous.
But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, no Christmas movie today makes any mention – on any level – of Jesus Christ. The central figure in most Hollywood Christmas movies is a man in a red suit. Now, I need to make a disclaimer here – I’m not against Santa Claus. He will be visiting my home in just a few hours to deliver some coal, possibly to my children, almost certainly to my dog, and perhaps even to myself.
One thing Hollywood sometimes gets right, however, is its use of villains in Christmas stories. Whether it’s Harry and Marv in Home Alone, or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, every really good Christmas movie has a villain of some sort. And who could forget the nefarious Hans Gruber in the spellbinding Christmas tale, Die Hard?
Most of us forget, but the real Christmas story of the Bible features one of history’s worst villains: Evil King Herod the Great. If any of his advisors disagreed with Herod, he brought them into the boardroom and said “You’re fired!” Well, actually, Herod just killed them. In addition to hundreds of innocent civilians, Herod killed his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his wife, and even three of his own sons, just because he felt threatened by them. The notion that he would slaughter all of the male children under two years old in Bethlehem is absolutely consistent with the Herod that even secular history condemns.
But, as awful as he was, Herod was not the real villain in the Christmas Story. He was a mere pawn in a much bigger conflict between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of hell. There is another, much more sinister villain in the Christmas story. Unlike Herod, this villain is alive and well today, making Christmas bitter for many.
I am talking, of course, about the big dude in red – not Santa, but the red dragon of Christmas – none other than Satan himself.
You haven’t heard of the red dragon of Christmas? He’s right there in John’s nativity account. Now you Bible scholars are shaking your heads right now, because you are sure that only Matthew and Luke’s gospels have an account of the birth of Christ. While it’s true that John’s gospel doesn’t include a Christmas story, the book of Revelation, which John also wrote, does.
The great crimson dragon in Revelation 12 represents none other than the prince of darkness and the accuser of the brethren: Satan himself. And according to John’s Christmas story, the great dragon wants nothing more than to devour the child.
The vile beast has but one goal: to snuff out the gospel in our hearts, to remove Christ from our homes, to keep the Savior of the world out in the cold. And if the dragon cannot destroy the newborn king, he will obscure him with trimmings.
This Christmas, at my home, among the peace-loving sheep and cattle in our little manger scene, I have added a tiny red dragon figurine too. I know it sounds strange, but I put him 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 slaughter the innocents, eager to sabotage the plans of God to bring peace on earth.
When we tell the Christmas story and leave out the dragon, it loses its power – it becomes barely more than a sugar-plum fairy tale. We must never forget that, from God’s perspective, Christmas was D-Day – the opening volley of an all-out invasion against the forces of darkness. Christmas, from heaven’s perspective, marks the beginning of the decisive battle to liberate us from the tyranny of sin and death.
If we suspect for one second that the red dragon takes the holidays off, we’re blind.
Christmas may just be the devil’s favorite holiday. When else can he get millions to utter the word “C-H-R-I-S-T” and mean it less? When else can he sow such desperate seeds of loneliness for those with empty chairs at empty tables? When else can the devil convince us that we can find joy by acquiring more junk that will be moth-eaten and rusty by Easter?
As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have …” Ham? Toys? Candy? Tinsel? Sugar plums?
No: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10)
The Covert War
So …. you better watch out. The red dragon will be there at your Christmas table, at your staff Christmas party, editing the baby out of all of your favorite Christmas movies. He might even be lurking under your tree right now. He is going to whisper regrets in your ear, and stir up old family feuds. He is going to try to fix your eyes on loneliness instead of the undying friend you have in Jesus.
Did you see how the dragon is struck down in Revelation 12.11? The sacred text says the dragon will be thrown down by the blood of the lamb and by the word of our testimony.
God has provided the blood of the lamb. All we must do to secure it for ourselves is confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s the first part. But you and I have a further task: we are to defeat the dragon with the word of our testimony.
In other words, we resist the devil and put the Christmas dragon underfoot when we tell the tale of what God has done for us!
This Christmas, before you open gifts, why not read the Christmas story first? I’m talking about the real Christmas story from the Bible, not the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one. Luke chapter 2 is probably a better choice than Revelation 12, but that’s up to you! Before you share your family meal, why not pause and pray sincerely together, giving thanks for God’s provision throughout the year?
Take charge of your home. Don’t let the dragon devour the child on your watch. With every testimony of God’s grace spoken around our Christmas tables, the red dragon will taste defeat.
In the end, we are promised that the awful dragon, Satan, will ultimately be cast down forever. The Messiah and His people will win, and we will finally see peace on earth. Good Christian men and women: rejoice, for God is doing this – even here, even now.
Amen, and Merry Christmas!