By now you’ve probably sung the words of that ancient Christmas carol “Silent Night” in church or at a Carols event under the stars. The story goes that a pastor was walking home on Christmas eve and felt inspired to write them as he walked through his village set with yellow lights and snow-lined rooftops. The words of “Silent Night” were sung in a little Austrian church the next day, then spread throughout the German speaking world in the early 1800s and came to the US fifty years later to become one of the great classics we sing every December.
Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright. It’s a beautiful line but it doesn’t fully capture the story. Chapter 12 of the book of Revelation gives us a slightly different version of the events. Unlike the scene depicted by the lilting carol, we see what was really going on in the spiritual realm. Instead of the peaceful glow surrounding the holy family pictured on our greeting cards, we see an enemy symbolised as a red seven-headed dragon. Instead of a baby sleeping peacefully in a manger, we see a vicious attack on a pregnant woman as she cries out in her pain. There’s a violent outbreak of war in the heavenlies and a cosmic uprising as the powers of evil seek to destroy God’s plan (Revelation 12:1-9).
This was no gentle scene. This was no meek and mild manoeuvre. It was God’s sovereign hand breaking into the human kingdom; a divinely orchestrated strategy sent to destroy the forces of evil that reigned over the world.
It’s not surprising then that there would be some pushback that would have ramifications on the earthly realm. It’s not surprising that the Enemy would motivate a power-hungry king to initiate a bloodbath of newborn boys (Matthew 2:13-18) and a scheme to destroy royal convoys to the scene (Matthew 2:12). The enemy was not going to let go without a fight.
But the book of Revelation also points to the end of the story. We see God’s great protection of the new mother depicted through the provision of eagle wings and a timely earthquake (Rev. 12:14-16), a victory that is reflected on earth in the escape of Jesus’ family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). And so the plan of God continues as Jesus grows to fulfil his mission and it is then that we can sing of the glories that stream from heaven above as heavenly hosts sing ‘Hallelujah.’
Ultimately Christmas shows us that God’s kingdom was always going to do things differently. God’s methods always upturn the ways of evil in unexpected ways. So instead of a king comes a baby. Instead of a lion comes a lamb. Evil is destroyed not by human violence, but by spiritual authority. That authority comes packaged as humility, sacrifice and love and is more powerful than any force of evil. This is the message of Christmas.