Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
And I will put enmity….
Bethlehem lies sleeping. The Judean hillside rises gently in the pre-dawn stillness. Sheep graze drowsily on their frosty slopes. A handful of bearded shepherds wrap their coarse outer garments ever more tightly around their shoulders to ward off the penetrating chill. Stars twinkle brilliantly.
Inside a small but pristine shed another scene is played out. Mary and Joseph gaze adoringly at their newborn son. Is that a faint first glimpse of a smile playing about Baby Jesus’ mouth? The baby is bedded upon hay—nice clean hay with no trace of animal refuse on it. Sanitized animals—donkeys, sheep, and cows—contentedly munch and ruminate nearby.
This is the Hallmark ® version of the first Christmas. Every department store window in America displays some imaginative rendition of this idyllically peaceful first Christmas nearly 2000 years ago.
The birth of Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem was truly remarkable. It holds every man, woman, and child in thrall in the twenty-first century even as it has for God’s people in every age before us. We stand as little children before the great mystery of Bethlehem. All the elements of simplicity and divine irony come together in Bethlehem’s manger. A king lies on a bed of straw. Courtiers of donkey, sheep, and cow attend Him. Christ’s High Priestly robes have been relinquished for swaddling clothes. He who spoke the Word (and was Himself that spoken Word) that framed the heavens and suspended the stars in their courses cannot so much as raise His own fist. Yes, even today Bethlehem baffles us. It humbles us. God’s ways are shown once again not to be our ways.
It is easy to slip into Christmas card mentality on the subject of the first Christmas unless one remembers first, and most importantly, that the stable was not a peaceful place that night, even though we sing of it in lullabies so sweet. Rather, on the night of Jesus’ birth, the manger was a battleground. It was the site of all-out, declared warfare. Secondly, Bethlehem’s stable was not a peaceful place because of a Christmas celebration centuries earlier in the Garden of Eden. That first celebration was not one of peace and unity, but of enmity and division.
We go back to the Garden of Eden to recall this event. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They had willingly listened to the lies of Satan, who had assured them that in so doing they would become as God, knowing good and evil. Now, as the painful reality and truth of their disobedient act is revealed, they stand naked and afraid, as God searches them out in the Garden.
After God metes out His just judgments for Adam, for Eve, and for the serpent, Scripture recounts the first Christmas commemoration. It comes in the form of a promise, and God Himself establishes it. Out of His eternal love for His people, He lays down the non-negotiable terms forever in history. It is not a friendly promise with the hope that someday the two sides will get together in some spirit of détente or ecumenicity. But rather, it is a Christmas promise decreeing that there will be hatred, war, struggle, and division forever between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. God has said so. There is no bargaining table in Eden. The line of demarcation between the two warring factions is clear and unmovable, nor does it become more blurred as the ages come and go. Adam doesn’t have a word to contribute to the matter. Eve keeps her mouth shut this time, hanging her head in shame. The serpent slithers away to rally his troops for the long, drawn-out battle ahead. He begins immediately to prepare for Bethlehem and Calvary, although there will be a myriad lesser skirmishes along the way. Every skirmish is part of a larger battle plan: the extermination of the Seed promised inGenesis 3:15. Satan never once loses his focus, and some of his skirmishes are very nearly successful. We think of wicked Queen Athaliah destroying the seed royal (II Chron. 22:10). We remember with horror King Herod killing all the male children two years old and younger in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16).
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
Initially, the promise of Genesis 3:15 does not seem to embrace the elements of Christmas, but rather it seems to defy everything that the nations and our society work to overcome. Recrimination, rancor, and division stand in sharp relief against love, harmony, and unity. It is important to remember that God spoke in the Garden of Eden, and He spoke a most profound Christmas message. In addition, no mortal ever could or would set the two sides at such variance. Nor was this hatred between the two seeds arbitrarily realized over centuries of ups and downs until one year, after trying to get along and work out a peace accord, the two sides were forced to conclude that they were sworn enemies. God established the enmity and He maintains the enmity. No serious student of the depravity of mankind can ever accuse man of pursuing this enmity. In this regard, we are like the schoolboy Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Always, and in ever more devious and deliberate ways, we try to break rank, sneak off, and join the forces of the enemy. And like Edmund, we are not satisfied to engage in treachery for ourselves alone, but try to take our brothers and sisters down that spiraling path with us.
We pattern ourselves after Eve in Paradise. We consciously work to make our peace with Satan and our enmity with God. It takes the Babe of Bethlehem to reconcile us to God. He alone restores our peace with God and seals our enmity with Satan and all his evil minions.
And so, it is not a pleasant scene at the manger of Bethlehem, no matter how fetchingly the artist paints the picture, or how happily we dress the windows. Satan is waiting at this manger. He has waited a long, long time to be here. And he is in full battle mode. The forces of hell are poised to strike the infant Christ. The sovereignly declared war at Eden has escalated. The dragon ofRevelation 12 is prepared to devour the Seed of the woman: “… and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”
It will take the Savior’s work at Calvary to crush the head of His opponent and finalize the great struggle of history forever. It is at the Cross that the promise of enmity between the two seeds established in Genesis 3:15 will be elevated to a fight to the finish. “It is finished,” will be Christ’s triumphant cry even as He suffers a bruise to the heel. By His meritorious death, he cements our enmity with Satan and strengthens our peace with God. Christ alone assures that the spiritual children of Adam and Eve will never join forces with the spawn of Satan, although we foolishly and repeatedly try to do just that.
“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Satan, having been foiled at both Bethlehem and Calvary, continues to seek his revenge on the seed of the woman until Christ’s return. The Book of Revelation makes this clear. But his doom is sealed. It was settled unequivocally in Eden at the very dawn of history.
Our hatred of Satan and this world’s hatred of us are two priceless Christmas gifts. They were the first ever given.
Christmas, through enmity, in Eden.