Summary: The followers of Christ have been such a powerful force for good in this world. No wonder the prince of darkness --that great dragon-- did not want the Christ-child to live!
"No wonder the dragon wanted to kill the Christ-child!"
(Simple transcript of Harold Miller’s sermon December 6, 1998, Corning NY)
"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." (Revelation 12:1-6)
When we think of the birth of Christ, we all have a picture in our minds. We’ve seen countless versions of the scene on Christmas cards.
Our text gives another view of Christ’s birth -- one we have never seen this on a Christmas card. No artist could do it justice. Or make it convey holiday cheer!
The scene from Revelation pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of Christmas as it looked from somewhere far beyond Andromeda -- Christmas from the viewpoint of the cosmic struggle between good and evil.
In daily life, two parallel histories occur simultaneously: one on earth and one in heaven. Revelation views them together, allowing a quick look behind the scenes at the cosmic impact of what happens on earth.
On earth, a baby was born. In heaven, the Great Invasion had begun --the Ruler of the forces of good is invading the universe’s seat of evil. And of course evil wants to stop the Invader.
So Revelation’s version is quite different from the birth stories in the Gospels! We see an enormous red dragon writhing in heaven -- its tail sweeps a third of the stars out of the sky and flings them to the earth. We see a woman clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of 12 stars and crying out in pain as she is about to give birth. Then she does give birth.
We know who the child is: the Christ-child -- one who will "rule all the nations", who will ascend "to God and to his throne".
Who are the woman and the dragon? The text says they are "portents" or "signs" -- symbolic figures. They don’t represent a literal woman and a literal dragon, but something more. (Note that the child is not called a "sign" but represents an actual human person.)
The dragon is explained beyond doubt in v9 -- the serpent, the devil, Satan, the deceiver. His heads probably do not mean intellect (in the ancient world one thought with one’s heart) but authority. The crowns are royal crowns--diadems (different word than the woman’s "crown" in v1). Satan does have princely authority. Jesus called Satan "the prince of this world" (Jn 14:30). In his temptation of Christ, Satan said he could give Jesus the "authority and splendor" of "all the kingdoms of the world" (Lk 4:6). Horns in the Bible always speak of strength -- the dragon wields his authority with very great strength.
Since she is called a "sign" or symbol, the woman is not simply Mary, the actual mother of Jesus. She is clothed the splendor of the sun, moon, and 12 stars -- which in the OT Joseph’s dream (Gen 37) represented the whole family of Israel. She continues to exist even after the child ascends to God and his throne. So she perhaps is not simply Israel but is the people of God -- the old Israel and the new Israel of God, the church.
So the picture of the first Christmas that Revelation gives is a dragon crouching hungrily, eager to devour the Christ-child the moment it is born.
What did the dragon have against the baby? Why did Satan want to stop the life of that baby? What difference was this Christ-child going to make in the world? Would it have mattered if Christ had not survived to do his ministry?
Several years ago a group of historians authored a book called "If--Or History Rewritten." Some of the IFS those scholars considered were these:
- what if Robert E. Lee had not lost the battle of Gettysburg?
- what if the Moors in Spain had won?