The nativity scene as we have come to know it is fairly idealized. Mary and Joseph stand careful watch with their flowing robes, colorful and looking great. Baby Jesus lays on a deep bed of hay in a perfectly constructed manger that looks very much like a little crib. A silent sheep lays nearby. A gentle cow looks on. Maybe a camel or donkey stands off to one side. Everything resides under one roof of a neat and orderly shed that appears as it could very well shelter a small family from the elements.
The beauty and peace portrayed by most nativity scenes was not the reality. The situation was probably very ugly. What mother
would want her newborn baby taken from her arms and placed in an unsanitary manger where the animals had just been eating earlier?
Try sleeping on hay once, it isn’t soft or comfortable at all. It’s risky for a baby to be put into anything that unclean. The manger wasn’t pretty, the whole scene really was dirty and disgusting. And as much as we have maybe come to that realization before, the second lesson says it was even worse.
The second lesson gives us the nativity scene from God’s perspective, what God saw on the night Jesus was born. What God saw would be the stuff of nightmares. Those parts don’t make it into many nativity sets. How many of you have a baby-eating dragon as part of your nativity at home? Heads and horns and crowns snorting and snarling and waiting for the birth of the baby. That paints an entirely different nativity scene. God saw that truth. Now right before we celebrate Christmas Eve, with all its beauty and peace, we must take a look at the horror of Christ’s birth. It was the dragon that made Christ’s birth needed. This dragon makes this birth …
A wondrous sign that shows wondrous love
The book of Revelation contains, for the most part, visions received by the Apostle John from Jesus. They confirm for John and all believers the truth about the end of the world. Jesus wins. As expected, visions contain a lot of picture language. Things pictured aren’t literal. Images and numbers are symbols that convey what’s behind the actual event. Here in this section, the book of Revelation makes clear that behind the birth of Christ is a terrifying reality. “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.” The child being born is Jesus. But the pregnant woman clothed with the sun, moon under her feet, that kind of authority can’t be Mary. The woman is the Church, all believers, who eagerly wait for this special promised child. The red dragon is Satan as explained just a few verses later. The crowns he wears signal his power. He wants what power God has. He was powerful enough to sweep a third of the angels with him into hell. A third isn’t an exact number. It wasn’t a majority of created angels, but not a small number either. This red dragon stands at the feet of the woman giving birth because he wants to destroy the child quickly. He will not be successful. Christ will rule, now and forever.
That’s a lot of pictures. Nothing meant literally, only figuratively explaining a spiritual reality. Getting through it can be challenging, but not impossible. What’s more important is seeing what this reality means for us. “Her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 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.” Christ Jesus, the baby born, is now beyond the ability of Satan to do him harm. He lost his only opportunity, and the reality is he never really had a chance. Now Satan takes his shots on the woman, the church of all believers.
A little math to help with this 1260 days figure. 42 months averaging 30 days equals 1260. 42 months is 3.5 years, which is half of 7. 7 is the number for God and represents the interaction of God with human beings. 7 years then would be all of measurable time, from creation to the Last Day. Half that time, starting after Jesus ascended into heaven, “was snatched up to God,” would represent a period of time. 1260 days is not literally meant to be counted off the calendar. It represents an entire period of time from Jesus’ ascension till he returns. That’s the time we’re living in right now. God still interacts with human beings, but believers are not home. We’re in that desert place.
We’re not home. We’re wandering in the desert with a dragon after wanting to pull us away from God. Now we hate to admit this while we’re sitting in church, but there are times when it seems Satan is having success. That beautiful peaceful scene we set out for the nativity every year, we can get complacent about it. Isn’t that precious scene nice? But not really a big deal. We miss the sign of God’s love and we go looking for it in other places. We say, God’s love can only be seen when he answers prayers exactly as we request. We have the job we want. We have the friends we want. Our spouse is great or we’re dating Mr. or Miss Right. But when those things fail, do we just as quickly realize God’s love? When prayers aren’t answered do we shout at God why? If we’re without work or friends, God must have stopped loving because now no one cares. Whoever we’re with defines our happiness. If they’re nice we’re happy and we’re okay with God. if not, we’re miserable and we ask what’s going on God. We even question why he’s punishing us when bad things happen.
How can you measure God’s love, get a sense of its magnitude towards you? If you’re a parent, think about what lengths you would go for your child. Or for your spouse. Or to protect your parents. You’d do whatever you could. But you would never send them into harm’s way. Well, God did. He willingly sent Jesus, his one child, to face the horror. From the moment of his birth, Jesus faced the red dragon of Satan. Faced him so you would not. The dragon can’t harm you because Jesus took away his bite. “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. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” Jesus wins. He was born, he rules. Your proof of God’s love, the waiting teeth of the dragon that God sent his son into, knowing full well what it meant.
God’s love is seen as Jesus faced even worse. Jesus faced off against Satan throughout his life, temptations, the threats of sin against him. Jesus could have questioned God’s love for him, thought God didn’t care, defined his happiness by what was happening to him. But Jesus took all those sins you committed. He wasn’t devoured by Satan, he was cursed by God. Hanging on the cross Jesus faced the wrath of God. Became unloved by God at that moment. All your sins and mine, all the sins of all the world, caused God to turn away from his only son. That means God will never turn away from you. Your sins are already paid. The wrath has been taken. God’s love is for you.
Now you live in the time Jesus rules. All the power and authority remain with Jesus for your benefit. The book of Revelation didn’t even have to mention Jesus’ life, death, or resurrection. So sure is the victory it moves from birth to ascension. Living in the time after that ascension you’re wandering. Yet take note of where. “The woman,” that’s you remember, the church of all believers, “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God…” You’re in the place prepared by God. What only seems like desert, with nothing good, and a wasteland of problems, a million miles from where you wish you were, is right where God wants you. It’s prepared by God, just for you. A place where you can serve him and serve others. All while you wait for the child who now reigns in heaven, to return to earth.
When you come tomorrow night, remember the book of Revelation. Remember the contrast between the manger and the dragon. How it was dangerous for Christ to come into the world. Still, he didn’t hesitate. Jesus came to fight Satan. He would live life to give his life into death. Signs of God’s love in action for you. In size and scope, God’s love for you is seen best in Christ coming to face an enemy as scary as a dragon ready to eat a baby. You couldn’t defeat him, but Jesus did. All so you would be with him forever. That makes what you see in Revelation a wondrous sign showing wondrous love.