John 3:16 is probably the best Christmas text. In my last blog on this subject, I pointed out, that in John’s gospel, the world that God so loved is the realm of rebellion against God. In 1 John we are told that the world consists of three impulses: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.
Revelation 12 presents us with a unique view of the Christmas story. We are given an image of a woman clothed with the sun. She is pregnant and is in the pains childbirth. Standing before the woman is a great red dragon, waiting in expectation. As soon as the woman gives birth, he intends to devour the child. If there is any doubt as to what John means by this image, Revelation 12:5 ends all debate. “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron.” The reference is to Psalm 2, a well-known Messianic Psalm. Verse 9 says of the coming of the Messiah, “You shall break then with a rod of iron, and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” And then, having predicted the power of the coming Messiah, Psalm 2:10 adds, “Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.”
Sometimes, when telling the story of Herod’s rage at the news of the Magi, I fear we misunderstand the drama. Yes, we are right in supposing that Herod is the man who is inspired by the dragon, to devour the child the minute he is born. But, I think we misunderstand his rage. Too often, Herod is presented as a madman, who fails to understand the love that is being born in Bethlehem’s stall.
In truth, Herod understands the situation perfectly. The Old Testament expectation of the Messiah serves as a warning to the kings of the earth. Unless they are prepared to submit to his rule over them, he intends to destroy them. Herod, quite rightly sees the coming of the Messiah as a declaration of war. With his coming, the battle is engaged. This world in its raging rebellion against God has been attacked. Christmas is the declaration of war on this world, so that, the fall of Babylon now becomes inevitable.
But if this is the true drama of Christmas, what do we then make of John 3:16? The answer, I think is found in the song of the shepherds. Luke records them saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:14) This translation is significant. The King James translated it as, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.” That translation seems to indicate that the coming of Christmas is good news to all the earth. But the King James mistranslated the verse. The promise only extended to those with whom God is well pleased.
And thus, the real drama of Christmas is that Christ’s coming sparked a massacre of innocent children in Bethlehem. It forced Mary and Joseph to become refugees. Eventually Christ would excite the rage of the Pharisees, Sadducees, the teachers of the Law, and even the Roman Empire, to nail the Messiah to the cross.
The good news at Christmas is the love of God. But how is that to be understood? I think we say it best when we declare that, in a world so inflamed with warfare against the rule of God, God in love sent his son, so that all who believe in him, would not, as Psalm 2 predicts, “perish in the way.” That is the story of love. One might kiss the son, believe in him and be saved, rather than broken by this great conqueror.