Next year I am going to decorate with dragons. But seriously.
Each Christmas I have observed the serenity of this little family in various nativity scenes: Mary, Joseph, Jesus. Some lambs. So quiet. So peaceful.
But further readings of the text reveal details that have been glossed over by commercialism, not least of all the death warrant on this baby boy. Did you know that hundreds of other babies were slaughtered in an attempt to find him?*
Maybe there should be hit men hiding behind the camels with guns and knives to illustrate this point? There should at LEAST be some blood on the straw, I mean come on people, Mary just gave birth without modern medicine.
Strangest of all, tucked away in the last book of the collection of writings about Jesus* is this eerie little passage: Revelations 12.
Here are some highlights:
The Woman and the Dragon:
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman …. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth…. behold, a great red dragon… 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…
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 the great dragon (who is called the devil, the deceiver of the whole world) was thrown down… And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given wings so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness… The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman… 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.”
How was that for a Christmas reading?
Its chilling. I admit.
I also fully admit that donkeys and lambs are easier to market at this time of year than blood and death and dragons. We have to make money somehow.
But for a moment, let’s make meaning.
The birth of Jesus is perceived as a calm little bubble of warmth and glow, like our candles and fireplaces, and Christmas trees. According to this Revelations back story, however, surrounding the womb that held him was a raging ugly battle to end his life including infanticide and the whole bit. Would you expect less than all-out war from his enemies the night the son of God was born?
According to this story, the war never ended. It says the dragon was so angry he couldn’t destroy THIS baby, Jesus, that he decided to wage war on anyone who followed in Jesus’ footsteps.
I follow in his footsteps, because I believe in what he taught: That we should love our friends, but equally love our enemies. That we should bless and not curse, serve instead of seek entitlement, lay our life down instead of taking the lives of others. From Jesus I have learned to view the world as a sacred place worthy of protection and not exploitation for my benefit. I have learned to see people as precious and valuable, not as dispensable property. I have learned to be thankful for what I have instead of taking from others to have more. Jesus taught me to be brave.
But all around me are horrifying stories of the fiery dragons that threaten to devour and destroy what I believe in and what was birthed in the Jesus I follow. Threats of terrorism. Shootings, killings, rape, genocide-some of it in the very name of the God who swore against it. Words of hatred and mistrust. Labels that separate worthy from unworthy. Apathy that rejects the sacredness of ALL life. Selfishness that seeks to protect our own at the expense of others. We don’t have to be killed to be defeated by these dragons. All we have to do is be afraid of them.
Christmas is not just a peaceful, quiet, sentimental evening in Revelations 12. There be dragons. It’s war.
Here is serene Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Unmoved after 2,000 years of this story being told and retold. Like a bold and unshakeable stand against all that threatens what is good and right and worth fighting for, and I stand with them.
The dragon can wage war. But so can all of us who believe in the kind of love represented by this story. It’s just that our way of fighting is different. We fight with generosity. We fight with peace. We fight with joy and with gift. We fight with humility, with love, with freedom. We fight with a song and a hope.
It isn’t God who is at war with us. It is God who is with us.
If all of this seems too weak for the terrifying reality that rages around us, read the end of the story. Spoiler alert: We win.