The Violence of Christmas

Do yourself a favor before Christmas. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. Then read Genesis 1-3. Then read Revelation 12. Then throw in Romans 16:20 for good measure.

That’s the whole Christmas story.

Christmas ViolenceIt’s not simply the poetic and sweet story of a child’s birth, welcomed by stars and angels. It’s a violent war story. A cosmic war story. A conflict between fundamental forces of good and evil. As Mary labored in a place far from home, heaven and hell thundered and took up arms.

I think of The Fifth Element’s Leeloo, who descends to Earth at the beginning of the movie, pursued by evil forces bent on the planet’s destruction. She is perfect and innocent, but she’s also here to fight. To spend her life redeeming a planet. Read those passages and watch the film again; it’s a Christmas story.

I think of Alan Furst’s spy novels, where whispers behind enemy lines invoke fury and danger. Where the small, the unsuspected, the few pave the way for the forces of good to erode and ultimately invade a land held captive by forces of evil.

And of course, I think of Die Hard, which we already knew was a Christmas movie, but think a layer deeper: a hero travels to a far-off land (McClane is a New York cop in Los Angeles) to reconcile with his estranged bride (she’s changed her name) and has to rescue her from evil powers that hold her captive. Yippee-ki-yay.

Doomed by a Baby

In Genesis, a serpent slithers into a perfect world and begins lying, eroding its foundations. In Revelation, this evil one has grown into a furious dragon: his power and dominion are far more menacing. He fumes and rages and casts down stars from the sky. But he’s still doomed.

And the first attack against him isn’t marked by the shout of warriors, the flash of swords, or the thunder of cannons. It’s marked by the cry of a baby.

The world didn’t welcome him. We only offered his laboring mother a reeking stable to protect her from the weather. The Christ child was born and laid in a manger, a place where animals eat. Later, while breathing his last upon a cross, he’d quote from a psalm that describes his death like this:

Like lions they open their jaws against me,

roaring and tearing into their prey . . .

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;

an evil gang closes in on me.

They have pierced my hands and feet.

(Psalm 22:13,16)

The baby took his first nap in a feeding trough, and 33 years later, his death would be likened to being torn apart by wild animals. He would also tell his followers to feast on his body and blood, a way of symbolizing and experiencing union with him; to taste and see that he’s good, that he’s victorious over Satan, sin, and death. Think about that symbolism: only by tearing him apart and devouring him do we participate in his redemption.

There should be no question that Christmas is the greatest cause for joy that the world has known. Imagine if Christ hadn’t come. Imagine a life where there was no eternal hope, where we were left to try to redeem ourselves.

Stop and Think

Christmas is also a time for us to stop and think. Remember the whole story of Christmas, not just the easily marketed warm-and-fuzzy side. Remember that all of it—Jesus’ condescension as a baby, his birth in a filthy stable, his sleep in a manger—reminds us of the muck he found us in. The nativity, so often depicted as cute and kitsch, is actually a painful depiction of our sin and fallenness. As Jerome once put it, Jesus was born in a dungheap because that’s where he knew he’d find us.

Remember, too, that the Christ-child’s birth caused hell to erupt with fury. Remember that their resistance was futile.

And remember, most of all, that the violence and humiliation of Christmas happened because God loved us enough to suffer all of it on our behalf and by our side. In Christ, we never have to be alone in our sorrows, pain, and humiliation again. The one who made the world entered it as a child and experienced all of its hardships and injustices so that by God’s grace, he could be our comforter in the years to come.

Which is why at advent, we proclaim:

“Comfort, comfort my people,”

says your God.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Tell her that her sad days are gone

and her sins are pardoned.

Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over

for all her sins.”

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

“Clear the way through the wilderness

for the LORD!

Make a straight highway through the wasteland

for our God!

Fill in the valleys,

and level the mountains and hills.

Straighten the curves,

and smooth out the rough places.

Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

The LORD has spoken!”

(Isaiah 40:1-5)

  • Collin

    Great article! Could you give me a source or direct quote for the following line?

    “As Jerome once put it, Jesus was born in a dungheap because that’s where he knew he’d find us.”

  • Michael Snow

    Yes, it is a cosmic battle. And while we are not forgetting that, let us remember that our weapons are spiritual. Too many evangelical war hawks forget that. Listen to Spurgeon:

    • Ellen


  • Slimjim

    Sobering reminder

  • Curt Day

    Perhaps if our Christmas Carols were to reflect what was written above, they would include other forms of music like the blues. But such does not contribute to the commercialization of Christmas.

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  • Karen Butler

    I wrote this,reflecting on those passages you cite, and this is the latest version of “A Sign for You”. Not many have “gotten it.” Most like the Hallmark version of Christmas better.

    It was not an angelic chorus
    he first heard, but his mother’s anguished cry.
    His first breaths were
    scented with dung,
    first sight, some smears of blood.
    So soon, to feel the earth rumble
    with trampling horse’s hooves,
    So soon to taste tears, and with Rachel, to lament.

    Those smelly vagrants who visited,
    who were first to wonder at Heaven’s exile —
    an infant bound in cloths,
    laid in an animal’s trough,
    nestled in a hollow
    made in a cold stone, resting
    like a corpse in a sarcophagus –
    they knew then, suffering marked his advent.

    Today we outfit the parents with halos,
    snuggle a fat baby in a cosy blanket,
    and sprinkle the scene with pretty angels
    spangled in gold. We tell the story
    voiced with British accents
    for suburban flat screens, drenched in sentiment.
    We strip the message of any darkness,
    but it was for orphans and lepers

    and hookers –for night shift workers–
    He was anointed.
    He came for haters of Christmas,
    and of Him. Creation was still groaning
    at His birth–because a dragon waited to devour Him!
    That bright star leads to a tomb.
    The sign for you, yet still
    is cloth strips and hollowed-out stone.

  • Respectabiggle

    When the first GI put his boot on the beach at Normandy, the fate of the Third Reich was sealed, though it took many months of desperate fighting to prove it.

    How much more so did the cry of that baby herald the destruction of the Prince of This World?

  • Gregg Love

    While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

    This what the Word of God tells us happened. Every other tale is extra-biblical myth or legend. Don’t think Jewish hospitality in the town of David was so bad that someone in the line of David had no place to lay their head or give birth to their child.

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