December 6, 2016

A not-so-silent-night

Image by John Hain

Our imaginations run away with us as we think about the night when Jesus was born. Much of what we envision has been shaped by years of hearing the story read and seeing it enacted via nativities and church programs and media, often featuring images and perspectives gleaned largely from the birth narrative of Luke. But there is another perspective to consider this Advent season. What would this night have been like if, rather than viewing it from the vantage point of Bethlehem, we instead viewed it from the standpoint of the spiritual world of heaven?

Another account of the birth of Jesus is given to us in the apocalypse of John, which we call the book of Revelation. Chapter 12 gives us insight into what this night was like in the realms of the spiritual world. While Mary and Joseph and Jesus were experiencing a “Silent Night” in Bethlehem, the scene in heaven was not so silent.

While few on earth noticed the advent of Jesus into this world as the time of Mary’s delivery drew close, increasingly all the eyes and ears of the spiritual world of angels and demons were turned to that “Little Town of Bethlehem.” And by the time Mary’s birth pains were satisfied, there was no angelic being of good or evil inclination whose undivided attention was not riveted on the infant lying in swaddling clothes in that Middle Eastern manger, so significant was his entry into this world. Revelation tells us that in the regions of spiritual beings there was one, pictured as an enormous red dragon, who wanted to destroy this frail infant the moment he was born. Wanting and doing, however, are two different things. As the red dragon flung his wrath toward the earth, another Being, greater and stronger than even this dragon, intervened and protected Jesus and his family.

Outmaneuvered and defeated, the dragon’s wrath only increased, and war broke out in the realm of spiritual beings, as the Archangel Michael led his regiment of angels against the dragon and his demons.

As you participate in your treasured Christmas services this year, listen very closely. Listen with your heart and your ears of faith. As you experience the calm and peace of tranquil worship in beautifully adorned spaces, can you also hear the clash of steel and the shouts of valor as the angelic beings of another world collide in mortal conflict? The outcome of this war determines the destiny of the One we call Jesus, his mother, and the souls of humankind. The entire world hung in the balance on that silent night in Bethlehem.

Why all this violent activity? Why consider this small, helpless child so potentially dangerous? The reasons reach far back into the murky realm of ancient history.

At the dawn of time in the Garden of Eden, as a result of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, the Lord promised there would be conflict on earth, specifically between the desires of evil and good. He also promised that someday, through the offspring of a woman, someone would come to crush the head of evil. Christmas Day marks the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. Easter Sunday marks its culmination. Satan knew, on the day of Jesus’ birth, that Jesus was headed to the cross where he would render Satan defeated. Therefore, on this magical night we call Christmas, when Jesus was born, war broke out in the heavens.

At Christmas we remember the birth of a single person who changed the landscape of spiritual conflict and altered the course of human history. We remember Jesus. Jesus, born of a woman, frail infant as he was, posed the greatest threat ever levied against the regions of the lost. Those vested in evil wanted him eliminated. The final battle in an age-old conflict had just begun. Who would win? All the resources of the lost world of devils and demons were deployed. Christmas Day marked the height of spiritual conflict and the turning point in the eternal battle between good and evil. It was D-Day in Heaven.

Jesus was born as our Redeemer. The human race is broken by sin and held in bondage to the author of sin, the great and dreadful red dragon of Revelation 12. But though broken and worn and defeated, God values who we are, understands that for which we have been made, and desires to redeem us to the place from which we have fallen.

The red dragon, on the other hand, hates grace and redemption. He prefers to see the human race broken, ground up into unrecognizable and useless pulp and discarded into the spiritual landfill of eternal separation from God.

Christmas is about redemption. Jesus came to live among the broken refuse of this world, to taste of its pain, to face its temptations—with the result of redeeming its brokenness back to what our Creator originally intended. This is the very last thing Satan wants, and thus at the birth of Jesus the red dragon unleashed his wrath upon the earth.

The violent intent of Satan, depicted in Revelation as this enormous red dragon, is a war fought on many fronts. One front was the attack against Jesus himself, in Bethlehem and throughout his life, resulting in his crucifixion on the cross of Calvary. Satan lost that battle, as proven by the resurrection of Jesus. But the war rages on, with attacks leveled against those of us who would be so bold as to stand up and say we are for Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and desire to live for him. This strategic front unfolds throughout history, in all places and times where the true church of Jesus Christ presses onward with the message of grace in this cold, dark world of sin.

Each of us who names the name of Jesus is a participant in the battle. But we need not fear. Just as God protected Jesus and Mary, giving her the wings of an eagle so she could escape to a place of safety, so, too, God protects us. We rest under the shadow of his wings—that is, if we truly live for him. No pretense, no compromise.

Some of us are called upon to give our lives for this cause of righteousness. We know of thousands of Nigerian Brethren who died for their faith. Nevertheless, they are still victors because the eternity that awaits them is filled with Jesus and his grace. The kingdom for which we stand is one that, though it begins here on this earth, also extends into the limitless time of eternity, where we dwell with the Lord forever.

So as we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” remember that this was not a very silent night in Heaven. The eternal struggle of evil against good reached an epic crescendo just beyond the earshot of our natural senses. Jesus, the Savior of the world, changed the landscape of spiritual history, escalated the determination of our Adversary, and through his obedient life, death, and resurrection offers us the only safety to be found anywhere in this world.

We find that safe place when, by faith, we place our lives in the small, wrinkled palm of the Babe of Bethlehem.

Galen Hackman is serving as intentional interim minister at Florin Church of the Brethren in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and does ministry coaching and advising work. A longer version of this article appeared in the December 2016 print issue of Messenger.