Christmas decorations reveal something interesting about our culture. First, we start with a Christmas tree. Then, we decorate the tree with beautiful ornaments and lights. The gifts are nicely wrapped and placed under the tree. We decorate the house with lots of bows, ribbons, figurines, and maybe even a nativity set. Years ago, we were given a “Precious Moments” nativity set. All the people were cute pudgy cuddly characters all dressed appropriately in fairy-tale style. They were all very white. Baby Jesus lays all snuggly in his bed with adoring barnyard animals looking on. Most nativity sets project an idyllic, peaceful setting. They seem to reassure us that all is right with the world. How different from the Christmas story we read in the NT and from the one told in Revelation 12.
Revelation 12 tells us of a majestic woman, dressed in the sun, the moon at her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head. So far, it sounds like our Christmas decorations. But then we are told of the pain and agony of childbearing and of a gigantic fiery-red dragon. His tail sweeps 1/3 of the stars from heaven. Early Christians interpreted this as Satan taking 1/3 of the angels in heaven, making them demons. The fiery-red dragon opposes the woman and seeks to devour the child as it is born. The child being born is obviously Jesus. Revelation 12:9 reveals in fact that the fiery-red dragon is the serpent, the devil, Satan. We are reminded of what God said to the serpent in the garden after the fall of Adam and Eve: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders” (9:6).
There is an echo of the birth narrative of Jesus as found in Matthew’s Gospel. There the story is a little darker than our “Precious Moments” nativity set suggests. True, there are heavenly angels appearing, eastern Magi greeting, and a bright star guiding. But a confused Joseph is considering divorce. His wife is pregnant out of wedlock. After a consult with an angel in a dream, Joe decides to get married. Jesus, the King of the Jews, is born. On hearing this from the Magi, King Herod is angry. He devises a plan to trick the Magi into showing him where the child is. An angel appears again to Joe, this time to warn him that Herod plans to kill the child. So Joe and Mary leave in the dark of night for Egypt. When Herod realizes that he is the one who was tricked, he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area who were 2 years old and young. Matthew then quotes a passage from the Prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15).
The woman in Revelation 12 can be interpreted as historic Israel, Mary, the Church or Eve. NT Wright thinks it best to view the woman as “the entire story of God’s people”. The fiery-red dragon, the serpent, the devil, Satan seeks to attack and kill the people of God just as he tried to kill Jesus. She flees into the desert and is protected by God. But as we will see, all hell breaks loose. The dragon wages war on the people of God, the Church. All this paints a very different picture than the cutesy Christmas of the Precious Moments nativity setting. We are being warned that we are under hot pursuit. The world is not as it should be. All is not well. A murderer is loose. This explains why life as a Christian can be so hard sometimes. We will continue this theme in our next section.