December 23, 2018
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
1 A great 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 its heads. 4 Its 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 it might devour her child the moment he 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 wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
I love all the signs that it is the Christmas season. I love that the radio has been playing Christmas music for the last six weeks. I love that the stores have eggnog. I love cookies. I love the lights on people’s homes and all the nativity scenes. Nativity scenes really get to the heart of the true gift of Christmas. They display the bright star and angels, shepherds and wise men, barn yard animals and a manger, Mary and Joseph, and an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Oh, you’ve never seen a nativity scene with a big red dragon? No, of course not because that doesn’t fit with the peaceful happy scene we like to picture of Christmas Eve that doesn’t address what really happened that night, but that is the picture we get of Christmas in our second reading from Revelation 12. The vision God gave John in Revelation 12 revealed Christmas Eve as a confrontation between a hungry dragon and the baby Jesus, the wondrous sign of love!
The book of Revelation often causes Christians to wonder what God is trying to communicate to them. In order to understand the book of Revelation, we have to start at the beginning. The book of Revelation begins with these words,
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.”
The revelation or in the Greek, ἀποκάλυψις, John was given of the events of the first Christmas Eve were symbolic. God communicated events to John by using images to represent things, much like God did for the prophet Daniel. With the help of God, Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue built out of different metals that was smashed by a rock to point to the next four world powers of the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans, all of which were overthrown by the coming of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom. The images that God gave men like Daniel and John served to show them great things beyond their understanding with images they could understand.
In our reading from Revelation 12, God wanted to show us what danger threatened the wondrous gift of Christmas. John first tells us,
1 “A great 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.” ‘
At first, we might see this as Mary, but the woman actually stands for the whole Christian Church. The crown of twelve stars points us to the church because the number twelve often stands for the church as a multiplication of the number 3 for God (Trinity) and the number 4 for man (four corners of the earth, four winds). John goes on the say,
2 “She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.”
Here we see that the Church has been waiting for the coming of the Savior and in verse 3 we see why the Savior needed to come. John said,
3 “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.”
This is Satan. He is pictured with seven heads and seven crowns because 7 is another number of God, the combination of God (3) and man (4). Satan wants to take God’s place as our ruler. In verse 4, John saw the result of the devil’s revolt,
4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.
When the devil turned against God, he took a great number of his fellow angels with him. And finally, we see the threat to God’s wondrous gift and our greatest need. John said,
“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.”
The devil was there the night Jesus was born and throughout his ministry tempting him to fail in his mission to save us, but he failed. Jesus was born and saved us, but we still face the devil while we are in the world.
Even though the devil did not stop Jesus from his work, the devil works hard to stop the work Jesus has done to bring us to faith. The great dragon works hard to attract us to himself and turn us away from the wondrous gift. It’s been a few years now, but there was a viral video on YouTube of an older brother and his younger brother Charlie sitting on his lap. The boys were very young, Charlie was a baby with just a few teeth and the older brother might have been three years old. The video showed Charlie grabbing his older brother’s finger to put it in his mouth and bite it, at which point the older brother said, “Charlie bit me,” which caused everyone to giggle. The bite wasn’t too painful and seemed fun, so the older brother puts his finger back into Charlie’s mouth, at which point Charlie bites down hard on his older brother’s finger causing him to scream, cry and with a frown say, “Charlie bit me.” The older brother was foolish to return to something that had hurt him. That same temptation exists for all who know that the devil failed to stop Jesus’ work. The devil hurt us once to the point of separating us from God through sin and death, but Jesus saved us from our sins. Jesus reestablished our connection to God by making us perfect in his eyes and through faith, but if we turn away from the wondrous gift, then we will be lost with the great dragon forever.
You and I face a great threat as believers in this world. We know Jesus as our Savior, but we still have the sinful nature that wants nothing to do with Jesus. The devil works hard to make us compartmentalize our faith hoping that it will eventually be lost. The devil wants us to treat Jesus as the wondrous gift of love only one day a year and box Jesus up for the rest of the year. He wants our Christmas display theme to be Santa and reindeer or penguins and snowmen, rather than the manger. He wants Sunday to be the time for everything else to take the place of spending time in the Word. He wants families to watch the Grinch, Polar Express, Elf and the Hallmark channel, to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” and to party with all kinds of good food, family and friends if it means you are so busy that you can’t sit with your family to read or hear or watch the first couple of chapters of the Gospel of Luke that tell of Jesus’ birth. The devil doesn’t take time off, sin doesn’t take time off, the threat of death and Jesus’ return to judge all things isn’t getting any farther away, which means if we go back to what we know hurts us and put our finger back in the dragon’s mouth we won’t have any excuse when the dragon bites us.
There is good news for all of us who have lost sight of the wonder of our Savior in the revelation Jesus gave John. John saw the greatest gift in his vision as the woman
5…gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”
Jesus was born to fulfill the promise of a son made to Adam and Eve in the garden. He was born to Joseph and Mary, descendants of King David, and heir to his throne. Jesus was also born the Son of God. Therefore, his rightful place is on the throne of heaven as John saw,
“And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.”
Jesus was not eaten by the great serpent, but crushed the dragon’s head through his perfect life that followed God’s plan and fulfilled every prophecy. Jesus destroyed the power of devil by overcoming death through his resurrection, he ascended to the throne of heaven as ruler over all things and waits to return to gather his people.
Jesus is the wondrous gift because he gave us what is good. Jesus saved us from the dragon on the cross and he preserves us in our faith through his Word and sacraments. After John saw the child taken into heaven away from the dragon, he saw that
6 “The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”
The 1,260 days refer to that time period of the end times or last days because they equal 42 moths or 3 ½ years. The number seven is a number of God and here 3 ½ years represents the time after Jesus’ birth as opposed to the time period before his birth. Simply put, the woman or the Church would be taken care of by God until Jesus’ second coming. God protects his church from the devil through his Word because through it we are saved as John wrote in his gospel,
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
He also preserves us through our baptism,
“the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,”
and through the Lord’s Supper, as bread and his body were given and his blood and wine was
“poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Through his sacrifice, through faith and through Word and sacrament, God cares for his people until Jesus returns.
Jesus gave us every reason to keep our eyes fixed on him the first Christmas. The events of the first Christmas were truly miraculous, because of the sky filled with angels singing God’s praises, because the lowly shepherds leaving their fields to share the good news, because Mary was a virgin, because Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, because God became man, and because this was all done out of love as John wrote,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I love all the signs that it is the Christmas season. I love the songs, the food, the lights, but the most wondrous sign is the gift of love lying the manger. Jesus’ coming meant that the dragon has been defeated. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid for all our sins of turning away from him and back to the devil. His power brought us life through his resurrection, his power brought us to faith and as he reigns on his throne in heaven, he keeps his Church safe through his Word and sacraments. The vision God gave John in Revelation 12 revealed Christmas Eve as a confrontation between a hungry dragon and the baby boy. All praise to God for bringing us peace from that dragon through Jesus death and resurrection so that we can wonder every day and forever at Jesus, the wondrous sign of love! Amen.