Christmas Day Service
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
In Advent we talked about how you never see an inflatable John the Baptist character along side your Santas and your Frosty the Snowmans and your Rudolph the Red Nosed Reigndeers. But there is another character you don’t tend to see at Christmas time. A dragon. But there should really be one present, lurking in the shadows behind the lowing oxen and lambs. He’s hiding there with one purpose - to eat the baby in the manger. … Right now you’re thinking that Pastor got into the eggnog and rum cake before writing this sermon! But stay with me!
The Gospels don’t record this despicable lurker in the Bethlehem manger scene. But guess who does? St. John in the book of Revelation. He paints a vivid picture of a seven-headed, ten-horned Red dragon wearing seven crowns on his scaly heads. You can look up all the hideous details in Revelation 12. “And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it” (Rev 12:4). Here comes this nasty rascal who our calm, quiet and serene nativity scenes don’t ever talk about. The dragon who comes to gobble up our Lord Jesus, tender and mild. “She gave birth to a male child, One who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5).
Obviously there is a lot more going on at Christmas time than decking the halls and jingling the bells! “Hark the herald angels sing, a dragon waits to eat our king!” So much for tidings of comfort and joy! December 25th marks D-Day, the genesis of an epic war and battle. God Himself invades the beaches of Bethlehem as the foundations of Hell quake and the demons witness the unthinkable. The dragon spreads his wings and flies into battle, like Smaug from Tolkien’s epic story “The Hobbit.” Flames bellow from his lungs and cover the world with burning fire and ash!
Christian author Philip Yancey writes, “From God’s viewpoint —and Satan’s— Christmas signals far more than the birth of a baby; it was an invasion, the decisive advance in the great struggle for the cosmos.” We know that human wars have been waged over power, ideology, land, oil and honour. But this ancient war, a spiritual battle which is the behind-the-scenes greatest conflict in the universe, is a battle over us.
The dragon is known by many names: the snake, the serpent, the father of lies, the god of this world. Most well known and probably most appropriate is the Satan. It means the Accuser. The one who points the finger at us. This is what St. John calls him later on in his book: “the accuser of our brothers … who accuses them day and night before our God” (12:10). Accusing is his fire. Litigation is his brimstone. By his pointing fingers, he enslaves us in guilt and shame and depravity and lies, like a chain wrapping ever tighter around our souls. His greatest fear is the Bethlehem Baby, for He is the breaker of chains. The Satan fears that we will hear and have faith that this baby is born to set us free. “Silent night, violent night, hell and heaven meet to fight.”
So, in this little town of Bethlehem a red dragon swoops in to swallow this child Who has come to liberate us from his accusations. To make us children not of slavery to sin and the chains of death but rather children of His Heavenly Father by the life giving water and the word. He comes to utterly shatter every chain that binds us to a life of bondage. This dragon must be stopped. He must silenced. He is beyond correction and restoration. Like the violent and relentless criminal he is, the Accuser must be killed.
Our beloved Christmas story begins a narrative of violence that marks the life of the Liberator. Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (MT 10:34). The dragon misses his opportunity in Bethlehem. The baby survives Herod’s assault on the holy innocents. But the dragon doesn’t give up. He hounds our Lord down to Egypt. Then back up to Galilee. He trails Him out into the desert wilderness with tempting words. And, finally, after 33 years of warfare and failed attempts - he finally wins. The dragon who failed to devour the child in the Bethlehem manger swallows the man atop the Roman cross.
It seemed like evil won that dark day. The ancient serpent finally was victorious! But, unbeknownst to the beast, he consumed that day a deadly poison. From the inside out, the accuser digested freedom in his bowels! “It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen” (St. John Chrysostom). At the death of Christ our Lord, there is a great rattling of chains as link after link snap in half under the enormous weight of freedom and life. A world held in bondage to the ancient dragon was, in the death of Jesus our Lord, immediately and irrevocably freed forever from his captivity and accusations! For “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1JN 2:1).
This all began in the little town of Bethlehem. Unseen by human eyes, hell and heaven battled over us. And heaven, in the end, stood on the neck of hell and pressed his foot into the throat that had so long accused us. The accuser of our brethren, John wrote, “has been thrown down.” He was conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:10-12). In the words of Simeon “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (LK 2:34). And the bigger they are, the harder they fall. The dragon falls very hard. All he gets for Christmas is a mouthful of shattered teeth, fiery lungs extinguished by a flood of baptismal water and a sword of wrath to chop off the head of the Accuser once and for all!
The dragon thought he won. But the One Who was born for you and died for you also rose for you. He lives and gives His victory and crown of life to all who believe. The baby lives! Beside His manger, in the midst of the frankincense, gold and myrrh stands a heap of broken chains - and the carcass of a dead and defeated dragon. In Christ your Bethlehem Baby, you are free! Amen!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Merry Christmas!
Sermon adapted from essay by Scott Bird