Text for the Week: Behind That Silent Night

Scripture: Luke 2:8-14

8There were shepherds in that region, out in the open, keeping a night watch around their flock. 9An angel of the Lord stood in front of them. The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10‘Don’t be afraid,’ the angel said to them. ‘Look: I’ve got good news for you, news which will make everybody very happy. 11Today a saviour has been born for you—the Messiah, the Lord!—in David’s town. 12This will be the sign for you: you’ll find the baby wrapped up, and lying in a feeding-trough.’

13Suddenly, with the angel, there was a crowd of the heavenly armies. They were praising God, saying,

14‘Glory to God in the highest,

and peace upon earth among those in his favour.’

Revelation 7:1-12

Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because she was in labor, in pain from giving birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: it was a great fiery red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads. His tail swept down a third of heaven’s stars and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. Then the woman fled into the desert, where God has prepared a place for her. There she will be taken care of for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

Then there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they did not prevail, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. So the great dragon was thrown down. The old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown down to the earth; and his angels were thrown down with him.

Theme- There is more to the Jesus’ birth than we often think

Questions

  1. What does the description of the dragon say about the nature of his character?
  2. How does Revelation 12 relate to the stories in Matthew 2 & Luke 2?
  3. What does it mean that Michael and his angels fought the Dragon, is this a pitched battle or a metaphor?
  4. The Dragon is defeated and thrown to earth, what is the significance of this action and what does it mean for our difficulties with evil and Satan?

Helpful Information

Related Texts: Isaiah 9:2-6, Daniel 10:1-14, Matthew 2:1-12,

John begins Revelation 12 by saying “a sign appeared” indicating that everything in this chapter is a representation or metaphor for what really happened at Jesus’ birth.

Both the passage in Luke and in Revelation are generally understood as visions. Visions are times when God reveals to a person or group of people a scene that is not readily available to the general observer.

Reflection

                Even if you cannot pull a Linus and recite the whole of Luke 2 on command, I am sure that you are familiar with the passage and when you hear it read your brain, at least to a small degree is on autopilot. I have had different people tell me that Christmas Eve needs three elements candlelight services, singing Silent Night, and reading Luke 2. There are numerous paintings and Christmas cards dedicated to depicting the story visually, and they are all uniform in depicting a peaceful serene image. To do this one element is left out of these depictions and I think is overlooked in the imaginations of many. Luke 2:13 says (in the older translations) “there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host”. This is an often overlooked detail of the text but this is a depiction of a heavenly army. Revelation 12 picks up this theme telling the story of Jesus’ birth as seen from behind the curtain (so to speak). In Revelation, John describes Jesus’ birth as a war between the armies of heaven and the armies of darkness. In this passage the heavenly armies utterly defeat Satan and he is thrown from heaven to the earth. Now it is vital that we remember John is describing a vision and as such it is a metaphor, this means we should not be deceived into thinking there was a real sword battle between angels at Jesus’ birth. Such language is used in Daniel 10 and meant to help us understand Satan’s active resistance to God’s work in this world.

                John uses a detailed picture to help illustrate the fact that Jesus’s birth was the decisive battle in the war against evil. Luke uses a similar concept, the singular angel who appears represents a herald running from a battle to bring tidings of the outcome to the nearby villages. The announcement of the angels to the shepherds is meant as a victory proclamation declaring the end of the war and the coming of peace. The vision of the angels in Luke 2 is one of the victorious army celebrating after the fight has been won and victory is claimed. This though seems to be where the imagery ends, these angels are not fresh from combat, rather the victory is won through the birth of Jesus not strength of arms. God refuses to win through battle and chooses to claim victory through the birth of a baby. So often we think about Jesus’ birth as the calm before the storm, that silent night of peace before he engages the enemy. This is a valid perspective, and there is certainly a place for remembering that it is on the cross that Jesus says, “it is finished.” and on the third day after that his disciples rejoice in victory. But it is also true that with Jesus’ birth God breaks into this world in a new and spectacular way and this too is a victory over evil as God provides a new way of life for humanity.

                Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that our Christmas celebrations are our participation in the heavenly victory feast? Every year we gather together to read the triumph proclamation and we reenact this victory, reminding ourselves that this child is the victory. Stop and consider what this means for us; the instrument of God’s salvation does not bring death and destruction, rather is a helpless child. John’s vision in Revelation 12 continues after Satan’s defeat, revealing he is thrown to earth where he continues to struggle with the Church. In light of this reality, Christmas has a twofold meaning. First, it is a reminder to us in the midst of life that tough the temptation might be strong and our enemy might seem powerful the victory is already won and we are able to celebrate. Second, it is a reminder of our real enemy and the authentic means of defeating that enemy. The Christmas celebration reminds us that God’s true enemy is the forces of evil and not ourselves, other people, or even culture wars. We are called to remember the enemy of God is evil and it was defeated. Further, we are reminded that God’s victory is not obtained through force of arms or conquest, God’s victory comes through sacrifice. God’s victory comes through sacrificing and becoming human, through stepping into our reality and submitting to the injustices we inflicted. When we understand that Jesus’ birth is the victory it helps us understand the means by which God claims victory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: