Heroes and Villains of Christmas
I confess, I’m a huge Beach Boys fan. Love their surf, sand, and streets songs. But alongside Little Deuce Coupe, Little Saint Nick has become a Christmastime favorite.
One of their more experimental songs also reminds me of Christmas; the real Christmas. Though Heroes and Villains tells the story of the westward expansion of the 1800’s, the song’s title is a perfect statement of Christmas.
Too often our experience of Christmas is engulfed by the commercialization of our Lord’s birth into holiday festivals void of spiritual truth and gift giving that maxes out our credit cards. And possibly even more concerning, many Christ followers have not grown beyond a sentimental understanding of a sweet-smelling, no-crying, halo-glowing baby in the arms of loving mother who gives no evidence of a grueling donkey ride and a dark, damp cave for a delivery room.
Christmas, glorious in all that it brings to us (the ultimate revelation of God, the declaration of his transforming love and so much more), was on Satan’s mind since he was tossed from heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). That set in motion a cosmic conspiracy to steal, kill, and destroy our salvation. So, as the song says, heroes and villains, look, see what you’ve done . . .
Satan (also referred to as Lucifer, the Devil) – the one who is God’s adversary and our accuser. As the serpent in the garden, he deceived the woman as his first attempt to steal the truth from Adam and Eve, kill their trust in the Lord, and destroy God’s plan to bring a savior to the world. Some scholars would claim Satan was involved in the wickedness that caused God to flood the earth (Genesis 6:1-8: for example: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”). Is it possible that the serpent was once again striving to pollute the line of descendants from which the savior would be born? Certainly this one who now “leads the whole world astray” had fallen from his privileged place of what may have been leading worship in the very throne room of heaven (Isaiah 14:11-15). Villain for sure.
Herod, in Matthew 2, proves himself another Christmas villain. When he learns of the Magi’s arrival and their quest to see the baby born to be king, he is terrified, not realizing that the kingship of Jesus is the Kingdom of God, not a political position to be used to control and exploit. So threatened was Herod, he ordered the vicious murder of babies in the region, ending their lives and bringing untold pain to the mothers and father who were forced to witness such an horrific act, probably in their own home. Like Lucifer, who was most certainly possessing and deceiving him, Herod succumbed to the threat he perceived in the Christmas birth of Jesus. Villain for sure.
Joseph, the most unappreciated, underrated character in this celestial play. We don’t even know what to identify him as; father (yes, but not birth-father); step-dad doesn’t work. Like Mary, he is an amazing human being assigned a one-of-a-kind role in the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. A doubter, you say, ready to abandon the young woman who claimed the impossible for her increasingly embarrassing pregnancy, who needed a special angelic visit in order to not divorce her … or, a man of integrity who eventually exercised a measure of faith that only a few men and women of renown before him had exhibited. How many birth-fathers would have risked all (home, career, safety) by taking leave at 3am with not much more than a backpack to journey uncertain roads through desolate wilderness to escape with the peace child to Egypt. His first child was born homeless, then Joseph made him a refugee to save his life. Nothing less than Hero!
Mary. Thirteen, or so, they say. The older (and maybe somewhat wiser) I get, the more I am convinced the Lord selected a qualified young woman but, I also wonder how many other older women (teenagers and beyond) he had to pass by because they lacked her simple faith, sincere heart and capacity to believe the unbelievable. Her greatest act of obedience was to do nothing. Noting but surrender to a monumental mystery that would radically alter her life forever. Sounds like a disciple of Jesus. A+ hero.
Shepherds. No names. Their Facebook profile would have that standard gray matted photo outline. Their job, low on the pay and respect scales. But their wondrous curiosity earned them the privilege of being the first humans to proclaim the arrival of the mighty God who would become suffering savior. Everyone is invited to become part of the family of Christ regardless of status. And in that family, nobody (even lowly shepherds) is a nobody. Blue collar heroes.
Magi. Just the opposite. Educated. Intelligent. Men of means. Yet humble worshippers. Adventurous. Generous. The first gentiles to worship Jesus. The first missionaries to the nations. The line in heaven to hear their eyewitness account of their marathon trip and then their life-threatening encounter with Herod will stretch long on one of those gold laden streets. I wonder what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing while these wise men were studying and searching for the child of God? Outsiders who trumped the religious establishment. Slam dunk. Heroes.
Simeon and Anna. Senior saints who may have worn out their welcome in their home church or maybe were ignored as relics of the past, no longer on the cutting edge of the emerging temple movement. Or, is it possible they were considered bothersome, not unlike the flaky intercessors or self-appointed prophets we’ve all run into? If the latter, haven’t we seen how well the Church functions without a wholly dedicated woman of prayer or a never-give-up-on-God’s-promises old man? Sadly, we have. Oh for these kinds of heroes.
I’d be interested in knowing the lessons you think of from these men and women (and broken angel). For me, it is being reminded to continue a relentless pursuit of the character traits displayed in these God-made-extraordinary heroes. And warned that the spiritual disease that demonized Herod and felled Satan is present in me. I thank God that he has saved this villain-potential person, and that he’s been grace-gifted with hero capacity by that incarnated infant who became THE hero who won freedom for every villain who ever lived.
Heroes and villains, look see what HE’s done!