We interrupt your warm, comfy, cozy Advent season with a message from the Apocalypse...By David Turner on December 23, 2015
We often hear the Christmas story told from the Gospels.
From Luke 1-2, we learn about John the Baptist's parents Zacharias and Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary, the coming of the shepherds, and the words of Simeon and Anna about the baby Jesus. From Matthew 1-2, we've come to know about Joseph's care for Mary and Jesus, the visit of the magi, the holy family's flight to Egypt, and their return to Nazareth. We're also aware that John 1 provides a sort of prequel or back-story of Jesus' birth when it presents Jesus as the Word who came into the world he originally created and revealed the Father's glory. Our familiarity with these Christmas stories may even lead to our taking them merely as quaint, sentimental material that's fit for wall plaques.
We seldom hear that the book of Revelation also refers to our Lord's birth.
Revelation 12 is at the center of the Apocalypse. Its imagery of a dragon waiting to gobble up a newborn baby is horrifying. The battle in heaven that results in Michael's angels ejecting Satan and his angels is amazing. The dragon's ongoing efforts to drown the woman and murder her other children is downright frightening. This is not exactly the sort of material found on wall plaques or embroidery pieces! But it helps us understand what is really at stake in the Christmas story–God's ultimate move to defeat Satan:
The woman who gives birth to a son is Mary, who embodies God's people, Israel and the Church. The dragon is the ancient serpent who tempted Eve and nipped at her offspring's heel. Her offspring is a Son who will ultimately rule all nations with a rod of iron, crushing the serpent's head. His Easter exaltation to heaven leads to the dragon's expulsion from heaven. Now, the dragon is taking out his fury on the woman's other offspring, the followers of Jesus.
Why is the Christmas story so different in the book of Revelation?
The Gospels emphasize the long-anticipated dawn of joy and peace that came with Jesus' birth, but Revelation emphasizes the resolution of the cosmic conflict—spiritual warfare—intensified when Messiah Jesus was born. The apocalyptic perspective shines a light on the sinister forces only occasionally hinted at in the beautiful Gospel stories of Jesus' infancy. When we read Revelation 12 alongside those Gospel stories we begin to understand...
- Why Herod was so troubled at the magi's search for a king, and why he ordered the atrocity of killing the babies in Bethlehem.
- Why Mary rejoiced that God would scatter the proud and dethrone the mighty, and Zecharias praised God for redemption from the hatred of Israel's enemies.
- Why Simeon told Mary that Jesus' birth would result in the rise and fall of many, that it would lead to opposition, and even to a sword piercing her soul.
- Why darkness would not overcome the light brought by Jesus, even though most of the people in the world that Jesus made rejected Him when He came into it.
And so, when we sing about the dawn of redeeming grace, about a silent night where all is calm and all is bright and everyone is sleeping in heavenly peace, let's not forget that behind the scenes the cosmic battle has just begun. We welcome the warm, comfy, cozy message of the dawning of messianic shalom, but we also need the reminder that there is a battle raging until it is ultimately realized.
And now back to our regularly scheduled Advent programming...