Monday, December 22, 2008

A violent variation on the Christmas story

(This is a piece I wrote for a Christmas newsletter back in '05, but I liked it so much I thought I'd try to put it back in circulation.)

I’ve got a great idea for a new kind of Christmas pageant. I would set up the front of the stage with all the usual elements — shepherds and star, sheep and swaddling clothes. For tradition’s sake, I would stick with three wise men, and even allow for some singing angels — though the Bible never tells us how many wise men there were and nowhere says that the angels sang.

Granted that there are more important points at which our familiar image of the nativity isn’t quite accurate. After all, childbirth at its best is a bloody, painful affair. I’ve been in the delivery room twice, and let’s just say I’m glad I never had to coach Lamaze in a barn! But just for effect, my pageant would feature the sweet, sentimental, sanitized version that we all know and love. At least at the beginning...

Then the curtain at the rear would open to reveal a scene as nightmarish as anything dreamed up by Stephen King. (Hey, since I’m merely imagining here, I don’t have to worry about budgetary constraints, right?) A woman in the agony of childbirth... A hideous monster poised to devour the baby... A fierce struggle between otherworldly beings with drastic consequences for the inhabitants of earth… Silent night indeed!

Front stage, the “Hallmark” version of the Gospel account; backstage, Revelation 12 in all its horror. So you’re still wondering what does Revelation 12 have to do with Christmas? Think of Herod’s genocidal jealousy as the precise point at which the spiritual reality of Revelation 12 protrudes into the flesh-and-blood reality of Luke 2. Superimpose the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem recorded in Matthew 2 onto the angels’ announcement in Luke 2 and suddenly “Peace on Earth!” sounds more like a war cry than a Christmas carol.

According to the last verse of Revelation 12, the war didn’t end when the Dragon failed to devour the baby. He has now declared war on “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev. 12:17 NIV) Let us consider this Christmas a challenge to reenlist, a call to arms — but always with the weapons of the Lamb, never with those of the Dragon.

For the basic idea of the connection between Revelation 12 and the Christmas story, I am indebted to the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge.

No comments: