Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Dragon Is Defeated

This story in St. Luke’s gospel is powerful, despite its familiarity. It’s a bizarre mixture of earthly things and heavenly things.  The story is nothing less than an account of how God tore open our “boring” reality and came down to us, becoming as we are, ordinary.  He came into the world as we all do, through the birth canal of a woman. He entered the world in an unsanitary place, wrapped in some cloths and laid in the animal trough, a “manger”, the place where livestock slobber.  No fancy bassinet with cushy bumpers for Jesus.  Just the smell of dung and dirty bedsheets.

And amid all of this ordinariness, miracles are breaking out all over.  Not with the landed gentry, mind you, but with the dirty, stinking, low-class shepherds.  Those dudes received as an unmerited gift a fireworks show of Godly proportions.  First one angel, breaking into the night air with the glory of God’s fire all around, speaking the words we sing about each year, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The Christ?  The Messiah?  The anointed King of God?  And then the angel said, “And this will be a sign for you.”  At this point, the early readers would probably be anticipating something fantastic, mind-blowing, extraordinary.  Instead, this is the sign, “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  What was that?  You just said a king was born?  What on earth is he doing in a trough?  What kind of king is this?  But before the questions could be asked, suddenly the multitudes appear, singing God’s praises for this great thing that has been done. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”  Thus, any hesitation on the part of the shepherds of the news of a king lying in a manger was wiped out.  Off they went to see for themselves what God announced by means of his angelic messengers.

This is an odd story because it’s filled with things we expect and things we don’t expect.  It’s a strange blend of ordinary human events and ordinary heavenly events (which are highly un-ordinary to us!). We are so familiar with this text that we miss out on its fundamental oddness.  Moreover, we’ve tampered with the story to domesticate it, to make it more palatable.  So now we see images and movies complete with halos, warm, comfy hay, and the glow of the campfire illuminating the cherubic face of the newborn Christ. As a result, we miss the biggest thing of all, the defeat of the dragon!

I know what you’re thinking.  What dragon!?  There’s no dragon here in Luke.  Just nice angels, clad in white robes, bearing harps as they fly through the night sky singing hallelujah.  But why are they singing! What is the reason the story of this ordinary birth is celebrated by God’s heavenly messengers?  The reason for the singing is the defeat of the dragon.

What Dragon?

The dragon is not, of course, explicitly mentioned in the gospels.  He is found, however, in the one other place where Jesus’ birth is mentioned, the book of Revelation.  Specifically, Revelation 12.

[12:1] And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

Are you beginning to see the reason for the angelic celebration? What has happened when Jesus was born?   The dragon was thwarted!  His intention was to devour the means of salvation for humanity. But the infinite, sovereign God outsmarted him.  Instead of consuming the child born of the woman, her son instead goes up to the very throne of God to reign!

Who is this dragon?  Revelation 12 continues thus:

[7] Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, [8] but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. [9] And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. [10] And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. [11] And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. [12] Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Ah, the dragon is that ancient serpent! The one from Genesis, the one who tempted Adam and Eve, who then disobeyed God, and distorted all of their progeny with sin.  The same one who, despite his defeat, would tempt Jesus in the wilderness.  The same Satan who is my enemy and your enemy, and whose fury is constantly at work in the vain attempt to undo the finished work of Christ.

The Ordinary Birth Is the Defeat of Satan

Now the celebration song of the angels can be understood a bit better, can’t it? What the birth of Jesus represents for you is the defeat of your chief enemy and accuser, Satan. He has been defeated by this child and no longer has any power over you.  The cause of his ceaseless accusations against you, your sin, has been forever wiped out by the blood of the Lamb who was slain.  This little boy, lying in this dingy manger, by his birth, life, and sacrificial death has redeemed you.

I look at this story so much differently now than ever before.  Now I read this account in Luke and wonder that this God we worship would condescend, come down so low, break into our sinful world, and redeem my soul from certain destruction.  Beloved I’ve been so convicted of my sin this week, and how utterly unworthy I am of his grace.  I read this story in Luke and want to cry out, “WHY ME?” Why on earth would you consider me worth saving?  Perhaps you wonder this as well.  You’re here and your family is in turmoil.  You personal life is in ruins.  The reason for that chaos is sin.  Satan, you see, although he is defeated, is still at war with the saints.  The dragon’s time is short, and so he has intensified his attacks in fury and anger. But for those in Christ there is certain victory. For those who are in Christ, all hell can be breaking loose, but the victory is sure and certain.  That is why we rejoice this night!  That is why we sing with the angels!

You may be here tonight in deep turmoil.  The reason for that turmoil is sin.  You are just the kind of person to whom this child came as dragon slayer.  He is here to slay the dragon and all his works in your life – sin and guilt, death, disease, loneliness, and exile.  He invites you into this grand story, where the dragon is defeated by the Light of the World.  He invites you to believe this story, this true story with real dragons and real sin and real death, this story which actually has a real beginning, when a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered, the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria somewhere between late 6 and early 5 BC.  The real story has a joyous ending in his blood shed for you, confirmed and sealed by his resurrection from the dead.  By believing in Him, the bright morning star, the babe in the manger, all is forgiven, past present and future, and a new life of joy and obedience begins.  So come, gather around the manger, and witness the utter defeat of the dragon by this tiny newborn baby, the one who has been swept up into heaven, and the one who will slay the dragon’s hold on your life, if you will only believe in him, the one Lord Jesus Christ.  Believe in Him, trust Him for your eternal security, and the dragon’s claws will forever be struck from your body and your soul, and you will be granted a robe made white by his precious blood.  Believe and be saved and enter into God’s Sabbath rest!  The gift is here.  The dragon has been defeated. As the writer of Hebrews has said:

[6] Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

The dragon has been slain, beloved.  You are invited to come and adore your King, the one who saved, or will save you from the dragon today.  All thanks and praise to God.  Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 24, 2010
Christmas Eve
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew