70. The True Meaning of Christmas – Killing Serpents

This is photo of a statue of Mary crushing the serpent that I took when I attended an African American Catholic Church in Columbus, Ohio.

In reality, many of us do not look forward to Christmas because it is a time of stress at worst, or syrupy sentimentalism at best. This is because we have lost the true meaning of Christmas – the killing of serpents. Once we realize that Christmas is about killing serpents, then our lives will improve greatly and we will be invigorated with a zest for living again.

Genesis 3:15 is the first prophesy in the Bible announcing the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus.1 It is the first Christmas prophecy, if you will, and speaks about the coming of the Savior, a Savior who came to crush the serpent’s head.

So the Lord God said to the serpent…”I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

– Genesis 3:15 (RSV)

Genesis 3:15 is God’s warning shot across the bow of evil. That is why it is called the protoevangelium – literally, “first gospel” – since it is the first time that the Gospel was announced in Scripture. It declares that a Messiah will come to destroy the devil, who is the origin of evil in the universe, while He Himself would get wounded in the process, a heel strike. This war of good versus evil is at the heart of all conflicts and will continue until the final return of Christ at the end of human history. We are all a part of that battle whether we realize it or not. Some of us are on the side of good and others on the side of evil; we are either prisoners of war or perpetrators.

For Christians, Christmas should be a time of deep reflection on why Jesus came. Meditating on the true meaning of Christmas should give us hope and peace when we finally grasp the fact that He came to liberate us from the captivity of the devil. He came to crush the very serpent that led the human race into sin and death in the Garden of Eden. Even though he will be defeated, Satan does not give up without a fight, and the Christmas story is evidence of that.

Joy and Hatred Surrounding the Birth of Jesus Christ

In addition to the great joy surrounding the birth of Jesus, there were malevolent forces at work as well. The Gospel of St. Luke gives us an account of the Christmas story that occurred on the very day that the Christ child was born. Angels appeared in the heavens announcing the good news to the shepherds and praising God, prompting the shepherds to visit the Christ child on the very day of His birth – the first people in the world, aside from Mary and Joseph, to lay eyes on the newborn Savior.

The meaning of Christmas often takes the form of the birth of Christ Jesus, but there is a broader and more ultimate meaning as well.
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Andrea Mantegna, Italian c. 1450, Gothic style

St. Matthew’s Gospel gives a much darker account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Magi, astrologers from Persia, came to find the newborn King so they could worship Him. Because of the Jews who had been dispersed in Persia along with their prophecies, they were anticipating the birth of a Jewish Messiah who would be a king. Certain astrological signs occurred that directed them to Jerusalem to inquire further.

King Herod was greatly disturbed when the Magi came to inquire for he felt that if indeed the young child were a king, he would eventually be a threat to Herod and the Herodian dynasty. The Magi were directed to Jerusalem, and when they did not return with the coveted information for Herod, he became enraged and decided to kill the young child. Wanting to make sure, he gave orders to kill every child in Bethlehem two years of age and under.

The contrast between the Magi’s response and Herod’s response is striking and, once again, underlies the division or polarization that accompanied the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The Magi followed the star until it finally directed them to the house where the Jesus and Mary were. Their response was as follows:

Having seen the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And having come into the house, they saw the Child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him.

– Matthew 2:10-11

Herod, on the other hand, reacted in just the opposite manner:

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became exceedingly enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

– Matthew 2:16

We have the contrasting emotional responses of “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” and “exceedingly enraged”; their actions also contrasted between humble worship and cold-blooded murder of children.

On an historical note, the Magi did not visit Jesus on the day of His birth as is often portrayed in art and tradition. While I don’t have a problem with artistic liberty, it should be noted that the Magi visited Jesus sometime after his birth. Notice that Jesus and Mary are now in a house instead of a manger, and Herod gives orders to “kill all the male children two years old and under, according to the time which he determined by the Magi.” Jesus could have been anywhere from a few months-old infant up to just under two years of age.

Herod ordered the grotesque murder of all male infants and toddlers upon learning of the birth of Jesus and the future role of the Christ child as some sort of king.
The Massacre of the Innocents, Reubens, 1638, Baroque style

The Massacre of the Holy Innocents

Nothing speaks more to the polarization effect of Christ on the world than the killing of the innocent children surrounding the birth of Jesus. Lest we get too discouraged concerning this terrible event, it is important to consider that Church tradition has always considered these children as martyrs of Christ, and not only martyrs but those having the privilege of being the very first martyrs for Christ – infants martyred on behalf of the infant Christ Jesus due to the anger and jealousy surrounding His birth.

As such, since early Church history, there have been feast days set aside to honor them. This event has also been a prolific subject of art, the above painting by Reubens being just one such example. St Augustine articulates their sacrifice well:

Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king, Herod. Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult – she, the fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues. . . . The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as infants from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.

– St. Augustine on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Contrary to the sentiments of our egalitarian society, there is indeed a hierarchy in heaven, with the martyrs having a special position.2

 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

– Revelation of St. John 6:9

Needless to say, martyrs have a special position in heaven of which these infant martyrs of Christ were the first to occupy. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28th in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and on December 29th in the Eastern Orthodox Rite. Below is a poem written by a 4th century Roman Christian poet in Northern Spain; it was turned into a hymn in 1860:

Holy Innocents

Lovely flowers of martyrs, hail!
⁠Smitten by the tyrant foe,
On life’s threshold,—as the gale
⁠Strews the roses ere they blow.

First to die for Christ—sweet lambs,
⁠At the very altar ye,
With your fatal crowns and palms,
⁠Sport in your simplicity.

Yet is Herod’s wrath in vain,
⁠Though a thousand babes he slay;
Christ, amid a thousand slain,
⁠Is in safety borne away.

Honour, virtue, glory, merit,
⁠Be to thee, O Virgin’s Son,
With the Father and the Spirit,
⁠While eternal ages run.

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens

Jesus came to defeat death, the greatest weapon that Herod could muster. In perpetrating such a heinous act of killing innocents upon the birth of Jesus, Herod ensured these children an eternity of glory.

King Herod did not fare so well. His death is recorded by Josephus:

But now Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him, after a severe manner; and this by God’s judgment upon him for his sins. For a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly. For it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also exulcerated; and the chief violence of his pain lay in his colon. An aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled it self about his feet: and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay farther, his privy member was putrefied, and produced worms. And when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns. He had also convulsions in all parts of his body: which increased his strength to an insufferable degree.

Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, Book XVII, Ch. 6, Par. 5

And for Herod, a deathbed conversion was unlikely for he was giving orders for the execution of his eldest son during the dying process3, ensuring for himself an afterlife spent in eternal torment. The Church historian Eusebius (d. 339) connects Herod’s death with God’s judgment on him for the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem.

 Such was the end of Herod, who suffered a just punishment for his slaughter of the children of Bethlehem, which was the result of his plots against our Savior.

Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, Book 1, Ch. 8, Par. 16

We see that the enmity prophesied in Genesis 3:15 was soon manifested in dramatic fashion soon after the birth of Jesus. The offspring of the devil, Herod, was destroyed, while the godly offspring, the child martyrs, were victorious even in death. This is something to remember when considering the meaning of Christmas.

Eve, the Mother of All the Living

The graphic illustrations of the examples above serve to reveal to us the truth of the most fundamental conflict in the universe – that between Christ and Satan. Herod, as wicked as he was, was merely a pawn through which the devil worked in order to try to kill the Christ child. For ever since the above prophecy in Genesis was pronounced as judgment upon him, Satan had been waiting with trepidation for the Messiah who would come to destroy him. Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium, was a judgment pronounced by God on the serpent as a punishment for deceiving the woman into eating the forbidden fruit. The book of Revelation identifies the serpent as Satan himself:

The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

– Revelation 12:9

No longer would the devil have a willing advocate in the woman; rather, there would be enmity. Not only would she not cooperate, but she would ultimately be responsible for his demise. The very victim of his deception would be the one through whom would come the instrument of his destruction. Since this prophecy was couched in poetic form, one could say that we have both judicial and poetic justice at work here.

In Genesis 3, after God meted out His punishments to the serpent, the woman, and the man, Adam then named (or renamed possibly) his wife, calling her “Eve, because she would be the mother of all of the living.” Adam and Eve had repented and now, because of God’s grace and forgiveness, would anew, this time under the much more unfavorable conditions of pain in childbirth and an unfriendly ecosystem. Because of their sin, they had lost the original heavenly glory cloud that covered their nakedness and had to be clothed with earthly animal skins.4 Of course, blood had to be shed in the procurement of animal skins needed to cover their sin, yet another clue to the mission of the Messiah to come.

What does it mean that Eve would be the mother of all the living? On one level, she would have the privilege of being the matriarch of the entire human race. Despite the animus of our present rage against childbirth and population growth, it was God’s desire, from the beginning, that humans “be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth.” On a deeper level, by believing in the promise of the protoevangelium, she would, by faith, look to the future and anticipate that one of her descendants, her “seed,” would be the One to once and for all destroy the serpent that deceived her. This would be Christ Himself. But any of her descendants who exercised such faith would share in that victory of life over death that the Savior would bring, thus inheriting eternal life.

Satan’s Animosity Toward Childbirth and Children

Now the stage was set for the great battle. Victory in defeating the serpent would come, not through the man’s strength and intellect but through the woman’s suffering in bearing children. Woman is the weaker sex physically, so it is not surprising that God would conquer through weakness so that He would be glorified.

After this promise was uttered against the devil, he set his sights on destroying the seed of the woman for that would be his demise. The Bible states that of Eve’s first two male children, Cain was of the devil and Abel was a prophet of God.5 It is no accident that Cain killed Abel; the devil was just trying to get ahead of the game by killing the promised seed. Would Abel have been the one to crush the serpent’s head? Like the crafty serpent that he is, he struck first before Abel had a chance. But God would not be defeated for Abel and the godly line was figuratively resurrected in the person of Seth.

The entirety of the Old Testament is the history of the conflict between the godly line of the Israelites and the surrounding pagan nations. They attempted to destroy her either through direct warfare and annihilation or by attempting to seduce them, often successfully, to abandon the one true God in order to engage in idol worship. Satan attempted to destroy the lineage of King David, for it would be through his line that the promised Seed of Genesis 3:15 would come. At one point in the Old Testament, there was only one descendent left, the infant Joash, after Queen Athaliah had wiped out the entire family. He had to be hidden away for six years while she ruled the land.6 Again, this is the devil’s work of attempting to destroy the Seed of Eve who would come to destroy him.

This brings us back to the story of Herod and the slaughter of the male children of Bethlehem surrounding the birth of Jesus. This wasn’t just an action of a lunatic king, but really a concerted effort, once again, of Satan attempting to strike at the promised One before the promised One struck and killed him. This time, it really was that One who was promised in Genesis 3:15. The time was getting closer for Satan’s demise. Take note of Revelation 12:4:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

This is why Herod did what he did, for Satan was waiting to devour the Christ child the moment he was born or soon thereafter. This is why the meaning of the Christmas story should be viewed not with sweet sentimentalism but in light of the battle of the ages for the soul of humanity.

As things stand today, Satan now realizes that he has been defeated. There is nothing left for him to do but to attempt to destroy as many people as he can, people created in the image of God. And since it was through childbirth that his defeat came, he attacks the womb with a vengeance. It is no accident that we are witnessing today a ravenous attempt to kill as many babies in the womb as possible. It has nothing to do with “a woman’s choice” as it does Satan’s revenge against the One who was born of woman – first of Eve, and then physically of Mary.

This is why the pro-abortion movement goes way beyond the fight for a political right and really goes into the territory of a religious crusade of death against the unborn. This is because it is Satanic. It is no accident also that the role of women in childbirth and raising children has been deeply maligned. Satan hates the very thing that led to his defeat. Plus, he does not want godly offspring. If the state or the Internet, rather than the parent, raises the child, there is a large chance that the child will be a worldly child. The most effective thing that a woman can do to defeat evil is to commit to motherhood and raise god-fearing children, rather than spending thirty years in middle management in some soulless corporation. It is not to say that that is the only role for a woman, but in the grand scheme of things, it is at the top of the list. That is why St. Paul states:

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

– 1 Timothy 2:15

Mary As the New Eve

Even though Adam and Eve were redeemed, they were mere foreshadowings of the new Adam and Eve, progenitors of true believers in God, a race of God’s spiritual offspring. St. Paul, in Romans 5, declares that Jesus is the new Adam, the head of this new race. It did not take long for the Church fathers to start equating Mary with the new Eve, the life-giving mother not of humanity in general, but of the promised Savior in particular.7

The contrast between Eve and Mary is striking. Eve listened to a malevolent spiritual being and plunged the human race into sin, destruction, and death by her disobedience to God. Mary, on the other hand, obeyed God by consenting to and believing in the word spoken by the angel Gabriel, that she would give birth to the Savior, the chosen offspring, prophesied in Genesis 3:15. Ultimately, the woman of Genesis 3:15 through whom the promised Seed would come is Mary rather than Eve. Whereas Eve manifested a cooperating spirit with the devil, Mary displayed a total enmity which was absolute because of the fact that her purity and obedience to God was absolute and uncompromising. Unlike Eve, Mary wanted nothing to do with the schemes of the devil.

Consider the following quote by the 2nd century Church father Justin Martyr:

Jesus became man by the Virgin (Mary), in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypro 100, A.D. 160
Eve and Mary are the most famous mothers of the Bible, but they really could not be more different.
Image from the 15th century Salzburg Missal contrasting Mary with Eve; image from http://pre-gebelin.blogspot.com/

Mary Crushes the Serpent’s Head

Jesus ultimately crushes the serpent’s head, but in another sense, it is Mary who does so also through her obedience to God which brought forth the Messiah. Like I mentioned above, it is true justice that the serpent would be crushed through a woman since it was a woman whom he deceived. This is prefigured through various Old Testament stories.

That is why we have Old Testament imagery to that effect. In the book of Judges, the woman Jael defeats Sisera, the commander of the army of the Canaanites, by driving a tent peg through his skull. The event is recounted in a song which has echoes of Genesis 3:15:

Extolled above women be Jael,
Extolled above women in the tent.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
She brought him cream in a lordly dish.
She stretched forth her hand to the nail,
Her right hand to the workman’s hammer,
And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,
She crashed through and transfixed his temples.

– Judges 5:24-26
An example of women crushing the heads of evil men.
Jael and Sisera, Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian, 1620

In Judges 9, Abimelech besieged the city of Thebez. The account states that:

Abimelech came to the tower, and fought against it, and came near to the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull.

– Judges 9:52-53
The Bible is filled with stories of women defeating men.
Illustration of the woman of Thebez dropping the millstone on Abimelech, from Charles Foster, The Story of the Bible, 1884

In the book of Judith, the heroine Judith beheads Holofernes.

Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. Now indeed is the time to help your heritage and to carry out my design to destroy the enemies who have risen up against us.” She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes’s head and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, “Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!”  Then she struck his neck twice with all her might and cut off his head.  Next she rolled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out and gave Holofernes’s head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.

– Judith 13:4-10
The book of Judith tells the story of a woman given power through God, not unlike Mary being chosen to birth Jesus, the ultimate King of the world.
Judith and Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1620, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

In the above examples, we have the common theme of a virtuous woman singlehandedly killing the enemy of Israel by attacking his head. These are just Old Testament types, the ultimate fulfillment being Mary, the Mother of God. As far as human agency goes, women are instrumental in bringing the salvation of Christ to the world and as I stated above, they do this through childbearing. Mary is the primary example and chief serpent killer among women for she is the one who bore the Messiah, but in reality, any woman who raises godly children is doing her part in crushing the serpent. This is why the devil will do anything he can to seduce women away from this role. There are few things that cause him more trepidation than a godly woman raising godly children. Such women do violence to the kingdom of darkness as the above examples illustrate.

Mary was obedient to the Lord when she learned she would give birth to Jesus, the Christ child, unlike Eve who gave in to the serpent and caused all of mankind to fall into a sinful state.
The Immaculate Conception by Giovanni Battista Tieplolo. 1767-1769

Jesus Crushes the Serpent’s Head

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil for forty days. Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus stood firm. Nevertheless, he was persecuted by others throughout His entire three-and-a-half-year ministry. On the night of His betrayal, the Scriptures say that when Judas took the bread at the last supper, “Satan entered into him.”8 Now was his time to strike at the heel of the Messiah with his poisonous venom of hatred. His venom seemed to work, for Jesus died on the cross at the hands of the Romans, being betrayed by His brethren, the Jews.

But death could not hold the Messiah. Three days later, he emerged from the tomb, having defeated death once and for all, thus crushing the head of the serpent once and for all, thus fulfilling Genesis 3:15. He crushed the serpent, not though hubris and strength, which is how the world conquers, but through the humility and weakness of the cross. He is the sole killer of the serpent, but his serpent-killing power was bequeathed to the Church as well, the Church being the primary instrument on earth to accomplish this task.

Christ ultimately came to defeat the serpent and it would do us good to remember this when considering the true meaning of Christmas.
Icon of Christ depicting him treading on a serpent and a lion, Cappella Arcivescovile (Archbishop’s Chapel), Ravenna, Italy, c. 600 A.D.

The Church Crushes Satan

We must not forget that if we are Christians, we are an integral part of this cosmic conflict of the ages and a target of the enmity of the devil. The book of Revelation tells us so.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

– Revelation 12:17

Christians have been persecuted from the beginning, and it has gotten particularly severe in the 21st century. We must remember that Genesis 3:15 informs us that there will be enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the devil. We must resist and overcome, not through hatred and violence, but through love, humility, and quiet obedience to Christ as we seek to love our enemies. We must look to both His example and the example of Mary. If we conduct ourselves in such a manner, we can be certain, as St. Paul tells us, that:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

– Romans 16:20

Merry Christmas and happy serpent killing!

Despite the tumultuous beginnings of mankind in Eve, through Mary we received the One who would crush the serpent's head once and for all.

Please leave your comments below and don’t forget to subscribe or press the follow button. Thank you!

Dr. Ron Gaudio explains how the meaning of Christmas is understated simply through remembrance of the birth of Christ; the ultimate meaning of all of this is the salvation of the world.

Deo Gratias!

Featured Book

From Walmart online: “The book Mary Crushes the Serpent is the author’s account of his 30 years’ experience as an exorcist. He writes: “I will first state what the demons said about the present state of the Church, and then I will relate the diabolical plans which they, according to their own admission, are keeping under cover… The object of this document is to show the maternal solicitude of the Blessed Virgin for the Church of her Divine Son, as also to publish the plan Mary seems to have adopted to come to the aid of the Church in her present plight.”

Footnotes and Endnotes

  1. “Messiah” is the Jewish word for “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, the offices of prophet, priest, and king were all anointed offices, since such men were inducted into their offices by their being anointed with olive oil. The word “christ” is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah.” Both words imply that Jesus was not only a king, but a prophet and priest as well. Traditional Christianity has held that Jesus came to fulfil all three offices.
  2. See the article entitled “Are There Differences Between the Saints in Heaven?” by Joe Heschmeyer.
  3. Toher, Mark. “HEROD’S LAST DAYS.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 106, 2011, pp. 209–28. JSTOR
  4. For a fascinating look at the idea that man was never created to be naked even in the Garden of Eden, but was covered before the Fall with garments of the light of the glory of God according to St. Ephrem and other Syriac Patristics, see Robe of Glory in the writings of Saint Ephrem by Baby Varghese.
  5. Cf. 1 John 3, Luke 11:50-51
  6. Cf. 2 Kings 11
  7. “How Can You Say That Mary Is the ‘New Eve’?” by Kenneth Howell, December 1, 2003, Catholic Answers
  8. John 18:37

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2022 Ron Gaudio

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: