Now war arose in heaven . . . (Revelation 12:7).
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a scene in which Father Christmas makes an appearance, bringing gifts to the main characters of the story: Peter, Susan, and Lucy. As we saw earlier this week, younger brother Edmund has become cozy with the white Witch – only to become her captive.
The gifts were not what we typically think of as Christmas presents: For Peter, a sword and shield; for Susan, a bow and arrows; for Lucy, a healing potion and a dagger. These gifts are designed for warfare. As Father Christmas begins to present them to the children he cautions them, “These are tools, not toys.”
When most of us think of the Christmas story we hear in our minds the words of Luke’s gospel. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, these phrases capture the drama of Christmas: Shepherds abiding in the fields, no room in the inn, a babe in swaddling clothes.
There is, however, another and very different nativity story at the end of the Bible. In Revelation 12 there is a story of a woman who gives birth to a baby. A great red dragon awaits the birth of the child, intending to devour it. When the child is born he is taken up to heaven. His birth instigates warfare between the dragon and his angels, and the Angel Michael with his angel army.
The dragon is thrown down to earth. He is defeated but not finished. Knowing that he will not overcome the child who is born to rule all nations, the dragon wages a war against humankind. The scene is bizarre to us, but it is not hard to understand. In his book, Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson adds this helpful comment.
It is St. John’s genius to take Jesus in the manger, attended by shepherds and wisemen, and put him in the cosmos attacked by a dragon. The consequence for our faith is that we are fortified against intimidation. Our response to the Nativity cannot be reduced to shutting the door against a wintry world, drinking hot chocolate, and singing carols. Rather we are ready to walk out the door with, a one Psalmist put it, high praises of Gods in our throats and two-edged swords in our hands (Ps. 149:6).Revelation 12 is without question the most overlooked Christmas story in scripture. There is nothing cuddly in John’s nativity scene. This Christmas story tells us that in the birth of Jesus the devil is defeated. He is defeated, but not done. He thrashes about even now wreaking havoc among humankind – and we are in a fight.
We can hardly be surprised the John’s visions are ignored in December. We don’t like talk of warfare. But all of us know people who “struggle” at Christmas. You may be one of those people. The ‘dragon’ takes the form of loneliness, illness, alienation, depression. The struggle may be silent, but it is real.
In Jesus, however, you are equipped. By the Spirit we receive what we need for the fight, “tools not toys,” as Lewis wrote. God gives what you need for this time, this season.
Where do you see someone struggling at this time of year? What gift or ‘blessing’ can you give to them today?
We pray today, O God, for all who struggle in this season of the year. Grant them what they need in the fight, and fill them with confidence in your victory through the child born in the manger. We ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.