Shadows in the Stable-the Christmas that Almost Wasn't

by Victor Knowles

The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable (to quote Ralph W. Sockman).

But dark forces were at work to loosen that hinge the night Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem! Burial place of Rachel-who died giving birth to Benjamin. Where David was anointed to be king of Israel. Where another King was about to be born!

Evil does not stand idly by when goodness makes its entry. To paraphrase Phillips Brooks: "O little town of Bethlehem/ How still we see thee lie!/ Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/ The evil forms flit by;/ Yet in thy dark streets lurketh/ The ever-cursing blight;/ The hopes and fears of all the years/ Will meet in thee tonight." The darkness that hovered over Bethlehem the night Christ was born was not just natural nightfall.

What are we talking about? The dark side of Christmas. Heaven celebrated the birth of Christ with angelic praises. Hell fought it with demonic fury. And was all the more furious when the wicked plot was divinely thwarted.

The shadow of Herod the Great fell over Bethlehem-"House of Bread." And Herod was hungry! From his counselors he learned that Bethlehem-a scant six miles south of Jerusalem-had been pinpointed by the prophet Micah to produce One who would be Ruler in Israel!

That was enough for power-hungry Herod. Enter "Murder One." He told the wise men he wanted to worship the new-born king. Right. If murder is worship.

Angels warned Joseph and Mary to take the Child and flee to Egypt. Herod's wrath was so great that the streets became rivers of red, flowing with the blood of Bethlehem's baby boys.

(The world is still cursed with those in high places who thirst for empowerment; who worship the high priestess of abortion; who callously legislate the deaths of unborn innocents.)

Herod the Great wanted Jesus dead for earthly reasons. Micah's prophecy, "He shall be great to the ends of the earth," aroused Herod's jealousy. But a greater-and more evil-power than Herod wanted Jesus dead, for eternal reasons.

A sinister shadow fell across the form of Mary, as she lay gasping in pain in the twisted straw of the stable. It was the shadow of the Great Red Dragon, otherwise known as the devil, Satan (Rev. 12:1-6).

John the Revelator records the obscene scene: "Then being with child, she cried out in labor and pain to give birth. A great, fiery red dragonstood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God."

To paraphrase Edmund Sears, "Still thru the cloven skies they come/ With evil wings unfurled/ And now their hellish music floats/ O'er all the weary world." Why should we be surprised? Ever since Eden, the adversary has been prowling like a lion, "seeking whom he may devour"-even a new-born babe. Especially the Christ Child!

Does it surprise you that the prince of darkness was present the night the Prince of Peace was born? It shouldn't. If Satan desired the dead body of Moses, through whom the Law was given, think how badly he desired the new-born baby Jesus, through whom grace and truth would come!

Martin Luther wrote "Away in a Manger," delightfully describing "the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay." But another presence was not asleep! He stayed by the cradle too! Luther wrote of him in another hymn, "A mighty Fortress Is Our God," and described the dragon/devil as "our ancient foe" who seeks to "work us woe-as a "prince of darkness grim," armed with "cruel hate."

And the hate of hell was strong in the stable that night. But the love and power of God above, blazing like the star that shone above the stable, was stronger! The mighty hand of God (perhaps through angels) reached down and stayed the evil intent of Satan.

For, you see, this Child must live to learn obedience, to become the perfect sacrifice for sin, to bruise the head of Satan, and to become the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world-including our own.

The Christ Child was spared that night that we might be spared from our night of sin.

As Charles Wesley wrote, Jesus was "born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth."

This Christmas I will again thank God that Christ was born in Bethlehem. But I will also praise Him for banishing the shadows in the stable, which would have taken Christ's life before He could give us ours.

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