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I had a phone call recently from a journalist who wanted to know if I had heard of any crazy
attempts to ban the mention of Christmas in schools or shops or council buildings. He wanted
a quote from Rev. Angry of Kirkmuirhill, fuming against political correctness gone mad. He
had in mind the kind of story we’ve become used to at this time of year: of nativity scenes
being removed from the town centre, or banners wishing us all a Happy Winter Festival.

At the time of the call I hadn’t heard of anything; and even if I had I’m not sure that I wanted
to be his rent-a-quote. However, since then I have come across a couple examples of the kind
of thing the journalist had in mind. First, I see that our beloved Scottish Parliament is
replacing their traditional carol service with a “festive evening.” Tory deputy leader, Murdo
Fraser, said, “This is the Scottish Parliament taking Christ out of Christmas.”

A spokesman for the Parliament, however, said that there would be a “Christmas focus” to the

More concerning, perhaps, is the finding of a recent survey which claimed that 27% of adults
questioned could not identify Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace. That rose to 36% among
younger adults. Sad to say, the Scots were shown to be the most ignorant in the country on
these matters. This is on the back of another survey which tells us that only 1 in 5 of Primary
Schools will be performing a traditional nativity play this year.

Trevor Philips of the Equalities Commission has expressed concern about this, though not
from a Christian point of view. His argument is that nativity plays are an integral part of our
culture. It’s a national celebration, he said.

The cumulative effect of all this is that we are left with the impression that Christmas is under
threat. Under the guise of not wanting to offend people of other faiths or none, the Biblical
story of how God became a man is being swept under the carpet and is being replaced by
something as meaningless and pointless as decaffeinated coffee.

I suppose it’s a good thing that people get hot under the collar about such things. They resent
being deprived of familiar and comforting rituals. Even Prof. Richard Dawkins, the so-called
high priest of atheism has admitted that he enjoys singing carols. They may not believe the
Christmas message, but they still love to sing about tidings of great joy and peace on earth.

The real threat to Christmas doesn’t come from the politically correct brigade, or over-
sensitive council officers. The real threat to Christmas, to our Christmas as Christians, comes,
not from the unbelieving world around us, but from the giants of greed and selfishness that lie
within us, which are aroused by all the noise and hubbub that bombards us.

The real threat to Christmas, to our Christmas as believers, comes from the dragon who would
slay our faith at this time of year by sweeping us off our feet and carrying us away on the tide
of consumerism, so that Christ whose birth we say we are celebrating, gets buried underneath
a mound of tinsel and turkey sandwiches.

That’s what John is telling us in Rev.12. It’s the Christmas story told in a very particular
way. Indeed, it’s the whole story of salvation condensed into just one chapter. It warns us of
the threat to our faith, the real threat. At the same time it tells us of how God will preserve his
people through the most dangerous times.

The Book of Revelation is written in code; for the same reason anything is written in code.
Its message was dangerous, anti-establishment. Its author, John, is in exile on the penal
colony of Patmos, an island just off the west coast of Turkey. However, his spirit, his faith
remains unbroken and he has a message for the church, a vision.

Quite simply his message is: Jesus wins. Despite how things look now; despite the
persecution, despite the pressure to conform; and despite those in the church who compromise
in order to save their skins, Jesus wins.

This is a message which would bring hope and courage to a church under-siege. It was a
message the Roman authorities would want to stop. So it was written in code.

But it is not the kind of code that is nigh impossible to break. The key to the code is the Old
Testament. If you have a working knowledge of the Old Testament, then with a bit of thought
the message of Revelation can be deciphered.

Those of you who have been with us during our recent series on the book of Exodus are off to
a flying start in understanding this chapter. Here we have an attempt to kill a baby boy at
birth; here we are told that the desert is a safe place; here we have mention of the blood of a
lamb; here we have the earth opening its mouth to swallow the water that endangered the

That should remind you of Pharaoh’s decree that every male child born to the Israelites should
be drowned in the Nile; and of how the Israelites escaped to the desert where God made his
presence known to them. It should remind you of the blood of the Passover lamb, smeared on
the lintels of the door-posts, so that death would pass over that household and spare the
firstborn son. It should remind you of the parting of the Red Sea so that Israelites, with the
Egyptian army snapping at their heels, could cross in safety.

You see, you hold the key to unlocking the meaning of this strange chapter in your hand

Let’s look at the text a bit more closely. Let’s begin with the characters, taking them in order
of appearance. There’s a woman. When we first meet her she is pregnant, but she soon gives
birth to a baby boy. Next there is an enormous red dragon who wants to kill the baby the
woman gives birth to, and when he fails to do that he tries to kill the woman. There is the son
born to the woman. Finally, there is Michael and his angels who fights the dragon and his
angels, and wins.

That’s the cast of characters. Who exactly are they?

Let’s begin with the male child born to the woman. Who is he? There are a couple of clues.
The first is in v.5 where we are told he: will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. That’s
a reference to Ps.2. Ps.2 is what’s called a Messianic Psalm. On the face of it, it is about the
greatness of the king of Israel. But it makes such outlandish claims for the king of such a
small and insignificant nation, that the Jews regarded it as really addressed to the Messiah.

In Ps.2:8 God says: Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the
earth your possession. v.9 says: You will rule them with an iron sceptre.

Quite clearly, the child born to the woman is the Messiah.

The second clue is last sentence of v.5:
And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
The only person in the Bible ever said to be taken to God’s throne is the Lord Jesus. Jesus
himself, when he was being interrogated by the high priest said:
And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the
clouds of heaven. (Mk.14:62)

So, what we have in v.5 is nothing less than the telescoping of our Lord’s life—his birth and
his ascension, his claim to be the Messiah, all abbreviated into a few words.

The next character is the woman. She must be Mary, our Lord’s mother. Well, yes and no.
Yes, in that Mary literally gave birth to Jesus. But this is Revelation; and Revelation doesn’t
do literal, at least not very often.

v.1 says she is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars
on her head. The number twelve always stands for the twelve tribes of Israel, the Old
Testament people of God. I wonder if you remember in the story of Joseph, one of the
dreams he had was of the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him.

His father didn’t need to ask for an interpretation (Gen.37:10):
Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to ground before you.

The twelve stars are the twelve tribes of Israel. Clothed with sunlight indicates that the
woman belongs to heaven. From elsewhere in Revelation we know that the crown is a reward
for faithfulness. Putting it altogether, the woman represents God’s faithful Old Testament

It’s a reminder that the Lord Jesus didn’t come out of no-where; he didn’t ride into town one
day like “the man with no name” in the Spaghetti Westerns. He was born into a specific
community, a believing community. Furthermore, the fact that after Jesus’ ascension the
dragon still pursues the woman shows that the New Testament church is not a new invention,
but the continuation of God’s people.

Third is the dragon himself. v.9 tells us who he is, so there is no need to speculate, it takes us
right back to Gen.3 and the story of the Fall:
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads
the whole world astray.

Finally, Michael and his angels. In Daniel 10 we are told of a battle between Michael, called
one of the chief princes, with someone called the prince of the Persian kingdom. This battle
was in response to Daniel’s prayer, with Michael coming in answer to the prayer, and the
prince of the Persian kingdom trying to prevent him. It’s a dramatic depiction of spiritual

John’s reference to Michael and his angels and their fight with the dragon and his angels is
revealing to us that parallel to the spiritual battle going on earth there is a battle going on in
the heavenly realms too.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, the story falls into place.

Here we have the fulfilment of God’s promise, the birth of the Messiah. But it’s not a
straightforward birth. He is born into a situation of great pain, of great sorrow.

Standing in the wings to prevent his birth is Satan. We know from the Christmas story that
Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys born in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The Wise Men had
told him about the birth of the one born to be king of the Jews. As far as Herod was
concerned there was only one king of the Jews, and that was him.

Revelation 12 is telling us that behind Herod was Satan. Herod, of course, was not the first
despot to try and prevent the birth of the Messiah. The reason God reacted so violently
against the Egyptians was that their policy of genocide put in jeopardy the whole plan of
salvation. No Jews, no Jesus.

It was the same with Haman, the Persian prime minister in the book of Esther, whose dearest
desire was to see the Jews wiped off the face of the earth.

Lesser known is the story of Queen Athaliah in 2Kings 11 who almost destroyed the royal
line of David, and with them the promise a Messiah who would sit on David’s throne. Her
dastardly plan was foiled by the quick thinking and courage of a woman called Jehosheba
who saved little prince Joash and with him the Davidic dynasty. Jehosheba should be
honoured as “the woman who saved Christmas”.

The story of Israel’s history is the story of the dragon ever ready to devour the Anointed One.
Even during our Lord’s lifetime the devil repeatedly tried to deflect him from his mission.
From the three temptations at the beginning of his ministry, with the promise of a crown
without the cross; to Peter’s expression of horror at the thought that his friend might be
arrested and executed (Never Lord, this shall never happen to you); to the emotional struggle
in the Garden of Gethsemane; Jesus was constantly saying: Get behind me Satan.

Jesus won that battle. He was never deflected from the road to cross. He was obedient to the
Father’s will and now he is the Lamb upon the throne, well out of harms way.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Having failed to prevent the birth of the Messiah;
having failed to prevent our Lord’s victory upon the cross; the devil now turns his ire upon
the Lord’s people, the church. v.9 tells us that the woman fled to the desert, to a place
prepared for by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

v.13 picks up the story:
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth he pursued the woman who had
given birth to the male child.

Do you see the Old Testament allusions? Fleeing to the desert reminds us of the liberated
Hebrew slaves in Exodus; it also reminds us of Elijah during the three years of drought. Both
are stories of God providing for his people in desert situations.

What about the 1,260 days? That’s three and half years (in a 360 day year). That’s what a
time, times and half a time means in v.14. A time is a year, times is two years and half a time
six months. That’s the length of time it took the Israelites to travel from Egypt to the borders
of Canaan, the Promised Land.

What is John saying to the church? He is saying there will be a time between Christ’s victory
on the cross and his coming again to reign in undisputed power. There will be a time when
the church will be pursed and harassed by Satan, when he will do everything in his power to
destroy her.

But don’t worry. The time is limited; indeed, as v.12 says, it’s short. It’s not for ever. God
will take care of you. Do you see that reference in v.14 to the wings of a great eagle given to
the woman? That takes us right back to Ex.19, to the Lord’s word to his people at the foot of
Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:4):
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and
brought you to myself.

And surely Isa.40:31 comes to mind:
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles,
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The Lord does not promise his people flowery beds of ease. He does promise that he will take
care of us; that the time of trial is limited; and reminds us that Satan, ultimately, is a defeated

He was defeated on the cross of Calvary. It looked like the end of Jesus. It looked as if Satan
had finally got his way. But Christ’s sacrificial death was in fact the death-blow for Satan.
The Elizabethan poet, Robert Southwell put it like this:
       This little babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
       All hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake.
       For in this weak, unarmed wise, the gates of hell he will surprise.

So the loud voice from heaven can declare (v.11):
They overcame him [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb

Our victory over Satan is not when we get one up on those who mock the church or who
make life difficult for us because of our faith. We defeat Satan every time we die to self,
every time we imitate Christ. Hence, the second part of the verse: and by the word of their

You see, Satan’s task this Christmas is to destroy your testimony, your credibility in the eyes
of your friends and family. He wants to keep Christ in the manger, safe and irrelevant and
ineffective. You are one who has been rifled from his flock, so to speak; if you are a real
Christian he has been unable to prevent Christ being born in you. But he will do his damndest
to stop you from influencing others for Christ. And Christmas is the ideal time of year to do

Let’s just remind ourselves of some of his strategies so that we’ll not be taken unawares when
he makes a pounce at us.

First, he will try to make the message of “peace and goodwill towards all men” sound hollow.
The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue over the Christmas period. So will the
suffering of the people in Darfur and Zimbabwe and elsewhere. I hope you will spare a
thought, a prayer, for those affected.

However, far more immediate, far more pertinent will be the fights, the arguments in our own
homes—over money, over a lousy choice of present, over the kids’ selfishness, over “who
invited them anyway”. It won’t be a merry Christmas for everyone.

Let’s be on our guard. Let’s be on the look-out for Satan hurling a grenade into the midst of
our homes, to rob us of our Christmas joy. And let’s nip it in the bud.
Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus, for they will be called sons of God. (Mt.5:9)

And should a fight flare up, let us be the ones who are quick to douse it with the waters of
forgiveness and reconciliation. Don’t throw oil on the dragon’s flames. Rather, be quick to
admit your fault, quick to forgive other’s faults.

Another favourite ploy of Satan to spoil our Christmas is to lay on the guilt. In v.12 we’re
told he is the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night.
Having lured us into his trap, Satan loves to remind us of it, and to lay on the guilt thick.

Despite the fact that we seem to have church services galore, it is in fact very easy to forget
the Lord at a time like this, to let our quiet times slip, our Bible reading and our prayer. It’s
very easy to over-indulge—to eat too much, drink too much, talk too much; to let our moral
guard down; to do something you’d rather forget.

Satan won’t let you. He’ll remind you. And he’ll rub salt in the wound by telling you what a
useless Christian you are, what bad witness you are. Indeed, how can you even call yourself a
Christian. That will destroy Christmas for you.

We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. Tell him that Jesus died for you because you
are sinner, not because you are perfect. Go to the Lord, confess your sin, and you will find
him eager to forgive. And it won’t do any harm to remind the devil that he has been hurled
down out of heaven. That phrase is repeated six times. It means that because of Jesus, God
doesn’t listen to his accusations any longer.

Here’s a third and final way Satan attempts to steal Christmas from us. He persuades us that
Scrooge was right. It is all humbug: the relentless advertising, the decorations in the shops
since August, the hedonism, the drunkenness, and the bill to pay at the end of it all. It’s all
humbug. And he successfully turns us into bitter, sour Scrooges.

The truth, however, is that it isn’t all humbug. A lot of it is; an awful lot of it is. But let’s not
throw the baby out with the straw. The wonderful thing about being a Christian is that we
don’t have to subscribe to the world’s reinvention of Christmas. The Christmas carols aren’t
background musack to us—they are hymns of praise. We love to sing “Glory to the new born
king”; now we need not fear the grave for Jesus Christ was born to save; the joy is ours and it
thrills us to declare the wonders of his love.

The loud voice in heaven says (v.10):
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of
his Christ.

We say “Hallelujah”. We say “Amen”.

Friends, the real threat to Christmas, to our Christmas, isn’t the council or the government or
the health and safety people or whoever else wants to tell us what we can and cannot do.
Remember that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ live in countries where even to
mention Christmas would land them in jail, or worse.

The real threat to our Christmas faith comes from the same source that threatens our faith all
the year round, the one who is enraged at the woman and makes war against the rest of her
offspring (v.17).

Praise God. The battle is won. It has been won in the heavenly realms, and it has been won
here on earth below. How foolish to surrender to the loser. Satan may lead the world astray;
but he need not lead you astray. Let us be those who obey God’s commandments and hold to
the testimony of Jesus.

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