70. The True Meaning of Christmas – Killing Serpents

Mary Crushing the Serpent

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 killing serpents is the true meaning of Christmas, it will greatly improve our lives and invigorate us 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. 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. So, 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 serpent that led the human race into sin and death in the Garden of Eden. Even though he will defeated, Satan fights on, and the Christmas story provides 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 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 True Meaning of Christmas:

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. The Jews who had been dispersed in Persia along with their prophecies anticipated that a Jewish Messiah who would be a king would be born.  Certain astrological signs occurred that directed them to Jerusalem to inquire further.

When the Magi came to inquire, they greatly disturbed King Herod. He felt that if indeed the young child were a king, he would eventually be a threat to Herod and the Herodian dynasty. Herod directed the Magi to Jerusalem, and when they did not return with the coveted information, 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

The words “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” and “exceedingly enraged” show how different their feelings and actions were. Their actions ranged from humble worship to the cold-blooded murder of children.

On an historical note, artists and tradition often portray Jesus as visited by Magi on the day of His birth. However, it should be noted that the Magi visited Jesus sometime after his birth. While artistic liberty can be appreciated, this fact cannot be ignored. 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.

The True Meaning of Christmas: 

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. To avoid getting too discouraged concerning this terrible event, we must consider that Church tradition has always viewed these children as martyrs of Christ. They were not just martyrs, but they also had the privilege of being the very first martyrs for Christ – infants who were 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

Indeed, martyrs have a special position in heaven of which these infant martyrs of Christ were the first to occupy. The Roman Rite of the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th. And, the Eastern Orthodox Rite celebrates it on December 29th. A 4th century Roman Christian poet from Northern Spain wrote a poem which 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 true meaning of Christmas.

Eve, the Mother of All the Living

The graphic illustrations of above examples serve to reveal us the truth of the most fundamental conflict in the universe. That is 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. Since God pronounced the above prophecy in Genesis as judgment upon him, Satan has been waiting with trepidation for the Messiah who would come to destroy him. God pronounced Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium, as a judgment 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.

The Consequences of Adam and Eve’s Sin in Genesis 3 

In Genesis 3, after God punished the serpent, the woman, and the man, Adam named (or possibly renamed) his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all living things. Adam and Eve had changed their minds and asked God for forgiveness. Now, because of God’s grace and forgiveness, they would start over. But, this time they would have to deal with pain during childbirth and an unfriendly environment. Because of their sin, they lost the original glory cloud from heaven that covered their nakedness. Instead, they had to wear animal skins from the earth. Of course, blood had to be shed to get the animal skins they needed to cover their sins. This is another sign of what the Messiah will do when he comes.

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. God has always wanted people to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” even though people are angry about having children and the number of people on the planet. On a deeper level, if she believed the promise of the protoevangelium, she would look to the future and have faith that one of her descendants, her “seed,” would be the One to finally kill the serpent that tricked her. That would be Jesus Christ. But if any of her descendants had such faith, they would share in the Savior’s victory over death, which would give them eternal life.

Satan’s Animosity Toward Childbirth and Children

Now the stage was set for the great battle. Victory over the serpent would come not from man’s strength and intellect, but from the woman’s pain in bearing children. Physically, women are the weaker sex, so it is not surprising that God would triumph through weakness in order to 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 entire Old Testament recounts the conflict between the godly lineage of the Israelites and the surrounding pagan nations. They tried to get rid of her by going to war with her and killing her, or by trying to get her people to worship idols instead of the one true God, which they often did succeed in doing. Satan tried to destroy King David’s family tree because the promised Seed from Genesis 3:15 would come through his family. In the Old Testament, at one point, Queen Athaliah killed everyone in the family, leaving only the baby Joash. He was concealed for six years while she governed the land.6 Again, this is the devil’s work of attempting to destroy the Seed of Eve who would come to destroy him.

Herod’s Slaughter of Bethlehem’s Male Children

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.

So, Herod did what he did. Because, Satan was waiting to devour the Christ child as soon as he was born or soon after. This is why people shouldn’t look at the true meaning of the Christmas story as a nice story. It’s a battle for the soul of humanity that has been going on for thousands of years.

The Roots of the Pro-Abortion Movement

As things stand today, we realize that we have defeated Satan. He has nothing else to do except try to kill as many people as he can. God made people in his own image. And because he was defeated by childbirth, he attacks the womb with a vengeance. There’s a reason 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” and everything to do with Satan getting his own back on the One who was born of a woman, first Eve and then Mary.

This is why the pro-abortion movement goes way beyond the fight for a political right. It really goes into the territory of a religious crusade of death against the unborn. This is because it is Satanic. People have deeply maligned the role of women in childbirth and raising children, and it is not just an accident. Satan hates the very thing that led to his defeat. Plus, he does not want godly offspring. If the state or the Internet raises the child instead of the parents, the child is likely to be well-rounded.

The most effective thing that a woman can do to defeat evil is to commit to motherhood. Yes they can 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

Though God redeemed Adam and Eve, they were just foreshadowings of the new Adam and Eve who became progenitors of true believers in God, giving birth to 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
The True Meaning of Christmas:

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. As mentioned above, crushing the serpent through a woman is true justice since he deceived a woman. Various Old Testament stories prefigure this.

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. This song recounts the event, echoing 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
The True Meaning of Christmas:

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 True Meaning of Christmas. 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 True Meaning of Christmas.
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.

The True Meaning of Christmas.
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

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism, and the devil tempted him for forty days.  Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus stood firm. Nevertheless, Others persecuted him throughout his entire three-and-a-half-year ministry. The Scriptures say that when Judas took the bread at the Last Supper on the night of His betrayal, “Satan entered into him”. Now was the time for his poisonous venom of hatred to strike at the Messiah’s heel. His venom seemed to work as the Romans crucified Jesus and his brethren betrayed him.

But death could not hold the Messiah. Three days later, he came out of the tomb, having once and for all defeated death. This crushed the head of the serpent, fulfilling Genesis 3:15. He beat the serpent not with pride and power, but with humility and weakness on the cross. He is the only one who can kill the serpent, but he gave his power to the Church. The Church is the best way on earth to carry out this task.

The True Meaning of Christmas

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 we are an integral part of this cosmic conflict of the ages. We are a target of the enmity of the devil if we are Christians. 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

From the beginning, people have persecuted Christians, and the severity of the persecution has increased significantly in the 21st century. We need to remember that Genesis 3:15 says: The children of the woman and of the devil will be enemies. We must fight back and win, but not with hatred and violence. Instead, we must do so with love, humility, and quiet obedience to Christ as we try to love our enemies. We must look at both what He did and what Mary did. 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

The True Meaning of Christmas

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.

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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!

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The True Meaning of Christmas

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

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