Christmas with an Attitude
I ran across a list of the 25 “Best Christmas Movies of All Time.” Frankly I was a little surprised that there were 25 Christmas movies, let alone the 25 best ones. Some on the list were the expected classics-- “It’s a Wonderful Life” (#2) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (#3). I had heard of many on the list ( “Christmas in Connecticut” (#7) or “Holiday Inn” (#12), but these were in black-and-white and I’m much too young to remember movies in black-and-white. There were 3 versions of “A Christmas Carol” (one with the Muppets and another with Bill Murray). Actually, the greatest version “A Christmas Carol” was the one starring Mr. McGoo, but you won’t see that one on anyone’s list. “Home Alone,” the most successful movie comedy of all time made the list at #8 (should have been higher). And they did get the #1 Christmas movie of all time right-- “A Christmas Story.”
According to the list, #16 was “Die Hard.” You remember the heartwarming story terrorists who try to blow up a skyscraper… except they’re not terrorists but bank robbers out to steal billions and murder a bunch of people in the process. But then they run into Bruce Willis and hilarious holiday hijinks ensue. But the story takes place during Christmas, so technically it’s a Christmas movie. If “Die Hard” is a Christmas story, then it’s a Christmas story with an attitude!
And John’s version of the story of the birth of Christ is a Christmas with an attitude. Of course, John doesn't have a birth narrative in his gospel; he saves that for Revelation. In John's version there are no shepherds, no wise men, no little drummer boys, and this is anything but a “Silent Night.” What this version has is a dragon! John’s version in Revelation 12 is Christmas with an attitude! There are two main characters here—
First, there is a pregnant woman clothed with the sun and has the moon at her feet who is very pregnant and cries out because she is in labor. This woman doesn’t look very much like Mary, because in this story she isn’t Mary. She represents Israel, and later in the story she will morph into the persecuted church. We immediately recognize the son she births—“ he will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (12:5). The child was snatched up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled to a place where she is cared for by God.
- Second, there is an enormous red dragon (Satan) who hotly pursues the woman as she is in labor. He has 7 heads (representing power), and 7 crowns (representing authority), and 10 horns (pointing again to more power). The dragon pursues the woman so he can devour the child she is about to bear. But when the child is taken to heaven to God’s throne, the dragon tries to follow to attack him.
Yep, Christmas with an attitude. This Christ child is not born in the obscurity of a barn and laid quietly in a manger. This birth takes place in the midst of a cosmic conflict. Eugene Peterson, in his book Distant Thunder, writes--
This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same. Jesus’ birth excites more than wonder, it excites evil: Herod, Judas. Pilate. Ferocious wickedness is goaded to violence by this life. (p. 121)
Angels aren’t singing “Joy to the World” because they are too busy in a pitched spiritual battle with the great dragon. And, of course, they defeat him and the dragon is thrown down from heaven to the earth (Rev 12:9, see Luke 10:18). The good news is that Satan was defeated in his attack on heaven. The bad news is that Satan is thrown down to the earth… with us! (Rev 12:12)
But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.
The bad thing about putting on as nativity plays is that there very few roles in the production so someone always has to play a sheep or donkey. This is definitely not true with John’s version of the nativity play here—we all have a part in this production! The great dragon can’t get to the child, and God protects the mother (now a symbol of the church). So what does the Satanic dragon do next? He comes looking for her children-- that's your part and mine. And God bless us every one!
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Rev 12:17, NIV)
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. We know that because Andy Williams sings, “It's the most wonderful time of the year; there'll be much mistltoeing and hearts will be glowing, When love ones are near; It's the most wonderful time of the year." But the very things that we love about Christmas also become dangers for us.
- Yes, Christmas is time for family… and of loneliness for those without families or who have lost parts of their family. (Perhaps that is why depression is so common during the holidays)
- Yes, Christmas is a time for tradition and customs, and it is the time when our expectation often exceed our reality (Another reason why depression is so common).
- Yes, Christmas is a time for giving and receiving gifts. And it is also the time that we allow materialism to run amok and run up debts we are still paying off in July!
Christmas is a time when we remember the birth of the child that would change all history. We see Christmas card images of Mary-and-child, shepherds, Joseph, the Magi and the rest. (I saw a picture of one nativity scene with Tim Tebow bowing before the manger). We sing the carols and try imagine the angels singing to the shepherds. We tell ourselves that “The True Meaning of Christmas" is in the proclamation of the angels. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14, KJV). Christmas is a time of peace and good cheer. (Ironic that “Christmas Cheer” for many is what gets slipped into their egg nog!)
But our carols present a one-sided view of the story of that “first Christmas,” the viewpoint of the shepherds, the magi, and the earth! There were things going on surrounding the birth of Christ that were unseen by human eyes on that “Silent Night” outside “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In Revelation, John shifts our point of view and retells the familiar story from the viewpoint of heaven.
And thus the pastoral serenity of "Silent Night" dissipates into sounds of battle. Viewed from heaven or hell, the reason for the season was all out spiritual warfare. God came down into Satan’s domain to face down the dragon on his own turf, and the old dragon was not about to let that happen without a fight! He used Herod in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, and he would use many others. All of hell’s fury would be released against that baby boy born that silent and holy night. And as the baby Jesus lay in that manger that night, somewhere in Palestine there grew a tree that would one day be cut down and fashioned into an old rugged cross. It would be that cross that would become ultimate Christmas tree upon which would be hung God’s ultimate gift! So John tells us this Christmas story with an attitude, and we are reminded to always view the manger through the lens of the cross!