My daughter and her family have a collection of crèches – all are kid-friendly. But one figure in the largest crèche they withhold until Christmas morning – the infant Jesus. The manger, filled with hay, is empty. The children handle all the pieces – indeed the figures in the crèche migrate; sometimes the Virgin Mary goes into the play-mobile kitchen –and sometimes Joseph and the shepherds join Darth Vader in an adventure or two. But one morning our grandson couldn’t find that hay-filled manger and tore around the house crying out: Where’s the baby nest?
It became a question I asked when I learned that Revelation 12, the current topic of our weekly Bible study has been described as another view of the Christmas story – reading it, I want to know where that baby nest is too! What John saw sure doesn’t sound like what Luke and Matthew report! Eugene Peterson agrees and writes:
It is St. John’s Spirit-appointed task to supplement the work of St. Matthew and St. Luke so that the nativity cannot be sentimentalized into coziness nor domesticated into drabness, nor commercialized into worldliness. He makes explicit what is implicit in the Gospel stories . . . The splendors of creation and the agonies of redemption combine in this event, this center where God in Christ invades existence with redeeming life and decisively defeats evil. It is St. John’s genius to take Jesus in a manger attended by shepherds and wise men and put him in a cosmos attacked by a dragon. The consequence to our faith is that we are fortified against intimidation. Our response to the Nativity cannot be reduced to shutting the door against a wintry world, drinking hot chocolate and singing carols. Rather, we are ready to walk out of the door with, as one psalmist puts it, high praises of God in our throats and two-edged swords in our hands. (See Psalm 149:6, Reversed Thunder –The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination, pp121-122)
Is that how the remembrance of Christ’s birth inspired you?
In spite of good spiritual intentions, I bought into the world’s celebration of a baby’s birth, holed myself up with loved ones, and had myself a merry little Christmas. By the season’s end, I am just so glad the hoopla is past, and so looking for a fresh start in the New Year, that I forget to remember the person whose birthday I just observed is A Savior – which is Christ the Lord. No wonder, I don’t have much of a new song, nor have I much of a sword.
Revelation depicts spiritual warfare – the supernatural battles between God and Satan. Such a revelation isn’t the lens through which most of us admit we see the world in which we live, even as we live in a world filled with spiritual longing and superstition. The Bible is plain, though, from Genesis to Revelation that God is an infinite and personal spirit. (Not symbolic) And His enemy, while not flesh and blood, is also spirit, and masquerades so we don’t immediately recognize him, or his servants. (2 Corinthians 11:14) He is no symbol either; he is God’s most unwilling servant. A created being, he serves God’s purposes. Unhappily, the visible church says too frequently – Satan isn’t really real – and the Holy Spirit is just a symbol. (George Barna)
Dealing with realities beyond us doesn’t make them non-existent or invincible.
C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, wrote:
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."
And he warned
"The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
Curling up and falling asleep in the comforts of this great nation is a great way to gradually squander a great inheritance. Willfully ignoring a holy and personal God may seem desirable – Eve thought so.
God help me wake up and sing -- – and make useful a limp sword. (Hebrews 4:12)
"Only when we stand in awe of God will we cease to stand in awe of Satan." (Erwin Lutzer, The Serpent of Paradise)