Let Us Worship Together!
Our Saviour is incredibly pleased to have you join us for live in-person worship inside the Nave and Sanctuary on Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25, at 10:30 am. The service will also be online via Facebook Livestream!
Sunday – Christmas Day Service
(Fast forward to 5:18 in the recording for the beginning of service)
Readings and Psalms:
Christmas Day, Year A
The Christmas Dragon
The Rev. Michael Church
We have, out in our entryway, a beautiful ceramic Nativity set. It has most of the usual figures – the Baby and his parents; shepherds, magi, three large camels. An angel. But something is missing.
Kimla Wille pointed out to me last week that most of these sets have an ox or a donkey. Ours doesn’t. I was thinking about this, and I started to wonder what else might be missing. A free-standing sheep? A second shepherd? And then it occurred to me that there is one figure missing, not only from our set but from my family’s Nativity scene at home, and indeed from yours as well. There is one important figure that nobody ever puts under the tree or on the mantelpiece when they decorate for Christmas.
And that, my friends, is the dragon.
Yes, that’s right: the red, seven-headed dragon is part of the Christmas story, as Biblically accurate as the shepherds or wise men, more accurate indeed than oxen or donkeys.
Our traditional Christmas story, the one most of us carry in our heads, the one depicted in pageants and tableaux, is a mish-mash of different Bible passages. We take the shepherds and manger from Luke, the magi from Matthew, and throw in a bit of Isaiah for flavor. These are powerful and beloved stories about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. But they are not the only ones
John’s Gospel famously tells the same story in a different way. It says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” This is John’s version of Christmas – no shepherds or angels, but rather a vision of ancient cosmic power, the same power that created the universe, bursting into our mundane humdrum lives. That, as much as any domestic scene, is the story of Christmas.
But it is not the only one. In another book, the Revelation, there is a different scene. In Chapter 12, we read:
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.
3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns ….
Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.
It’s always hard to be sure what Revelation means, and I don’t want to over-simplify a complicated passage. Is the woman Mary? Or is she Israel itself, God’s ancient people? Hard to say; but there is no question that the child she bears is the Messiah, the heroic savior. And although I personally think the dragon is the Roman Empire, its seven heads a sign of the city’s seven famous hills, Revelation itself tells us the dragon is “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
The Gospels describe Jesus being born into a world ruled by King Herod and his Roman puppet-masters; a world sickened by poverty and hunger, by unclean spirits and dread diseases. In the psychedelic poetry of the Revelation, we see him born into a world ruled by a dragon.
It does seem, sometimes, that our world is ruled by the powers of evil. For almost a year, we have watched Hell itself unleashed in the Ukraine, by a power as malevolent as Rome ever was. In particular, we were transfixed by the genocidal siege of Mariupol – Mariopolis, literally the City of Mary. One photo, of a pregnant woman on a stretcher, carried through the rubble, is burned into my brain. Her name was Irina Kalinina, and she was about to give birth to her first child, Miron, named with the Russian word for “peace.” After the shells hit, doctors could not save him, and she begged them not to save her either. They are buried together, while her husband tries to go on living.
When I think of her story, and of the seeming impotence of the civilized world in the face of such brutality, I wonder if the dragon has not won.
But the Scriptures give me hope. In the Gospels, story after story, Jesus challenges the powers of evil in combat, and defeats them.
In Revelation, the hungry dragon is thwarted; the child escapes, protected by God; the woman (like so many Bible figures) takes refuge in the wilderness; and the dragon is defeated by the power of Heaven, imaginatively described as an army of angels but truly representing the victory of Jesus over the Cross and tomb.
You see, the healings and the exorcisms, the miracles of Jesus, those are small, human-scale victories. But his ultimate victory is the Resurrection, in which he defeats the last and greatest enemy of his people – Death itself. That is when the dragon – the reign of death and hell – is destroyed.
This is a wild symbolic vision of the story, but I like it. I like it because our usual version, the Holy Family gathered in a humble barn, glowing with nimbus light, has over the years become so familiar that we lose sight of its staggering claim: that the power which made the stars has entered into our own miserable lives, fighting on our behalf the power which would extinguish not only the stars but also our own souls. This is what it means that the child is born to oppose the dragon; this is what it means that light shone in the darkness.
And it has won. Life has conquered death; love has conquered hatred. This is what it means that the dragon has fallen, that Christ is risen, that when the light shone in the darkness, the darkness did not overcome it.
Celebrate, beloved. Celebrate with joy, not just the birth of a baby long ago, but the presence in your own life of that power that baby represents, the Light that made the world, the Life that never dies, the rule of love and peace and joy and hope. Celebrate, church, the victory of God.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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