This is my third Christmas season in Tampa, and I still haven’t gotten used to 80 degree temperatures in December. Shopping for a Christmas tree in shorts and flip flops just feels odd. And apparently I am not the only one who feels this way. Even the local wildlife seems to be bit confused by the unseasonably warm temperatures.
Two nights ago, after listening to my daughters lament that ours was the only yard in the neighborhood without any outside decorations, I went out to hang lights on the house. When I stepped behind some shrubbery to reach for an electrical outlet I almost stepped on a snake that was napping behind a rock. I don’t know what kind of snake it was. For one thing, it was dark outside; the front door light wasn’t bright enough to make out any distinguishing marks. Just as importantly, both the snake and I were unpleasantly surprised by our encounter, and neither was interested in hanging around long enough to make introductions. I jumped one way and he crawled another.
I’ve never associated snakes with Christmas; there is no mention of them in the stories of Jesus’ birth. But there is something highly symbolic about my encounter. In Genesis 3: 14-15, after Adam and Eve disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, God speaks to the serpent who had first seduced them. “Because you have done this,” God says, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And 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.”
Those words bring to my mind the opening scene from Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. The film opens with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he cries out to God a snake slithers by. Jesus crushes its head with his heel.
Admittedly, that detail is an artistic liberty that goes beyond what is explicitly stated in the Scriptural accounts (see, for example, Mark 14: 32-42), but it is an accurate portrayal of what this event means. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection brings about the defeat of Satan. Tucked away near the end of the book of Romans, as the Apostle Paul is offering personal greetings, he gives this word of encouragement in 16:20 – “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
Which brings me back to my front yard two nights ago. That poor snake was just minding his own business, but thanks to Scripture the symbolic connection between a serpent and Satan is almost unavoidable. Jesus came into the world to announce and inaugurate the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Through what he accomplished on the cross sin has been atoned, death has been defeated, and darkness has been overcome by light. And one day Satan will be completely crushed.
As I watched the snake slither away, a strand of now-plugged-in Christmas lights in my hand, I couldn’t help but give thanks.