Advent Animals Series: The Lamb and the Serpent

In this series of Advent animals we now come to the Lamb of God and the Serpent. Both are in Bethlehem–along with shepherds, wisemen, Mary, Joseph, donkey, sheep, and camels.

Perhaps the Ancient Deceiver, disguised as a snake, doesn’t pick up immediately that something BIG is happening in this insignificant sheep town. Then, he hears angelic hosts singing, “Glory to God.”

A serpent's head

Such singing really stings. The Serpent, aka Satan, has stopped cow-towing to God long ago and prefers feasting on violence and death. It doesn’t take him long to slither his thoughts to King Herod. Soon, all Bethlehem boys, ages two and under, are slaughtered (Matthew 2).

Hanging by a Thread

Although our salvation hangs by a threat, the Lamb of God is completely safe under God’s will. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with enough Christmas gifts to keep them comfortable until they return to Nazareth after Herod dies.

Joni says, "Infant Jesus painted in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations."
“Jesus, born for all Generations” by Joni Ware. Joni, my friend, says, “Infant Jesus is in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations.”

“Behold the Lamb of God”

From Genesis to Revelation, the story of the Lamb of God is a connecting thread. Also, throughout scripture, is the thread of the Serpent: this Ancient Foe, who does everything imaginable to keep the Messiah from entering the world through King David’s line.

In the Old Testament it is the blood of lambs that protects the Israelites  in Egypt while the Angel of Death passes over each house. Families whose door posts bear no blood mark suffer the death of their firstborn sons (Exodus 12). For centuries thereafter, the yearly Jewish Passover requires many sacrifices of spotless lambs. It is into this context John the Baptist announces Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The Serpent Has a Bible Thread Too

In Genesis 3 we read that God says to the Serpent, “Because you have done this [deceived man and woman to disobey], cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The crushed head is more than your typical snake-rake killing. The promise to Adam and Eve is one of hope and rescue. But it is costly. God himself must leave home to become a baby and make us holy and wholly healed.

What an incredible story that turns rationality upside-down! God stoops to be a baby and experience what we experience—growing up, with its good, bad, and ugly. He is tempted as we are tempted, but he does not falter–ever. The perfect lamb is sacrificed for us. We are the “joy set before him” that compels him to the cross. Now, life and resurrection await all who believe. Our good God just can’t help being good and rescuing his wayward little folk.

Bible Story for Grown-ups

If you desire a more grown up version of the Christmas story than Luke 2, read Revelation 12. In this metaphoric depiction of warfare in heaven and earth, Satan is called a dragon, which comes from the Greek word “drakon,” to look; fascinate.

Lion and lamb

Of course, Revelation is scary, fascinating horror, unless the reader zeroes in on the Lamb of God. As John struggles to capture this vision he writes: “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll.…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….And he went and took the scroll…and the elders fell down before the Lamb singing a new song.

John doesn’t miss a beat morphing a slain lamb with a resurrected lion. He records:

The New Song

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation….

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (from Revelation 22, ESV).

This story has a happy ending and is our Merry Christmas. Baby Jesus grows up to be the Lamb of God. Some day, He promises, earth’s troubles will be rolled up like a scroll. The Lamb will return to rule, and that Serpent gets thrown into a lake of fire.

John concludes:

The Lamb in Revelation 22

“Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age…” (Revelation 22:1-5, The Message).

Stained Glass Lamb

Christmas Animals Advent Series: The Donkey

Advent has begun, and we turn toward the Bethlehem manger. What new Christmas insights can we discover from the old, beautiful story of Jesus’ birth? In Christian tradition, the manger animals point to some wonderful truths. This week, let’s meditate on the manger’s donkey.

A donkey carries the load of another.
A donkey is a burden carrier.

Did Mary Ride a Donkey?

Actually, the donkey is not mentioned in the biblical Christmas story. But early church history established the animal in art and drama. Commonsense indicates that a pregnant Mary would need transportation to travel some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Even if Joseph and Mary were poor, it is not unreasonable to believe they would find a donkey in their village to borrow for their journey. Carpenter Joseph probably used a donkey many times to carry his wood.

The photo above from the movie The Nativity Story shows Joseph and Mary on a Jerusalem street as they travel the final six miles to Bethlehem. Do you think Jesus stirred in Mary’s womb while in the Holy City of his destiny? Some thirty years later he would ride on a donkey colt among waving palm branches and the shouts of Hosanna.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

Donkeys like buddies
Donkeys fare better with a  buddy (courtesy of Pixabay).

The Talking Donkey

There are only two animals that speak in Scripture: the garden serpent and Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22). Balaam is a nasty prophet for hire—so evil in leading people away from God that he is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; and Revelation 2:14. Also, the prophet is so blind to God’s truth that he cannot see what his donkey sees on the road of disobedience. Balaam’s donkey acts like a typical donkey. He stops when he senses danger, he pushes against a rock wall for defense, and he refuses to budge. Balaam beats his donkey mercilessly three times for not following his lead. During the third beating, God opens the animal’s mouth to speak to Balaam, reminding him that he, the donkey,  has been a faithful servant to his master.

Although Balaam is corrupt, God opens his mouth to speak blessings rather than curses on the Israelites. Among those blessings is a future Christmas vision and prophecy:

…The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel…” (Numbers 24:17, ESV).

Stubborn Donkey Stereotype

People who love donkeys protest the saying, “Stubborn as a donkey.” Equine expert Ben Hart says, “A donkey knows plenty of things, but he’s wary of things he hasn’t seen before, things he doesn’t know about. A donkey isn’t good at solving problems that are acceptable to humans. Our problem is that we don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are….A donkey’s nature isn’t to be stubborn or difficult, but purely to learn and survive” (from The Wisdom of Donkeys–Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield).

The Donkey Legend

If you look at the donkey’s back you will discover darker fur in the shape of a cross. Legend says the Palm Sunday donkey could not look at the horror of Jesus on the cross. When the animal turned his back, the cross’s shadow was lovingly tattooed upon him.

The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey's back inspired a Christian legend.
The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey’s back inspired a Christian legend.

I never thought much about donkeys until the past two weeks, but I now have a greater appreciation for them. Donkeys are sturdy, dependable, good listeners with their big ears, affectionate, and loyal. Perhaps these are qualities we can cultivate in ourselves during this first week of Advent. And maybe, like a donkey braying its ridiculously loud “Eeyore, eeyore, eeyore!” we can joyfully shout out too:

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Lyrics by Isaac Watts

 

The movie jacket of The Nativity Story shows the main actors,--Joseph, Mary, Herod, Herod's son, and a star and Roman soldiers on white horses in the background.
The Nativity Story, 2006, stars Keisha Castle-Hughes and Shohreh Aghdashioo. Rated PG, it is a good choice for older children with the warning that the Bethlehem massacre is short and intense.
This book cover shows a donkey with a daisy in his mouth.
I enjoyed reading this book Flash by Rachel Anne Ridge (Tyndale, 2015). The book jacket says Flash is about “the homeless donkey who taught me about life, faith, and second chances.”