Text: Revelation 12
Christmas Eve service
Preached by Jason Storbakken (Below are sermon notes)
We have journeyed with Mary this Advent season. Mary, pregnant with Promised One, pregnant with the one who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace).
During these last few weeks, we have walked with Mary; we have witnessed her encounter with the angel; we have seen the scandal that her pregnancy caused in her village of Nazareth; we have watched Joseph struggle with his inner conflict (“Should I abandon my pregnant fiancé; whose child is this?”); we saw Mary flee to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an elderly woman, also miraculously pregnant.
Mary, this unwed, teenage mother from the margins of society; Mary, a seemingly insignificant soul living in an occupied territory; Mary, like the prophetesses Miriam, Deborah and Hannah before her, pleads with God, and prophesies in God’s name.
“The high and mighty shall come down. The humble and those of a low estate will be uplifted. The rich will be sent away, and the poor and hungry will be brought to the center of power.”
Our journey with Mary bring us to the Nativity story, the birth of baby Jesus. Our sermon text is from Revelation. Most folks are unaware that there is a Nativity story in the last book of the Bible.
Revelation was written by John, the beloved apostle, who also wrote one of the Gospels and several letters in the New Testament.
John the Revelator is not only an apocalyptic prophet. He is also a poet. Revelation is unique. John is writing in coded language.
He was perceived as a threat to the Empire, so he wrote Revelation in code. For example, Rome is Babylon, etc. John could’ve been talking about King Herod as the dragon who tried to kill Jesus, but John’s vision is bigger than a local political stooge. It’s bigger than a political stooge on the national level.
Of all the apostles, John was the only one to die of natural causes. He is also the only when who did not run away from Christ when Christ was being crucified. He worked through the suffering. He clung to the cross and claimed Christ’s righteousness and proclaimed the Good News to the poor and brokenhearted. And for his faithful witness he was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.
At the cross, John stood next to Jesus’ mother. And Jesus spoke to both of them. He said to Mary, “Mom, he is your son now.” And he then said to John, “And she is your mother.”
According to church tradition, John cared for Mary until her death. He surely heard her stories of encounters with angels, the shepherds, living as refugees in Egypt with her husband and baby Jesus, the first miracle, and more.
John is using symbolic language, but moving beyond codes that conceal to instead speak a language that instead reveals what is truly occuring.
John conveys God’s cosmic vision, transcending our concepts of time and space.
The Child and the Dragon
This war began ages ago at the very start of creation. Woman was in the garden of Eden and the snake was there too. She was tempted by that old serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And she awoke to right and wrong. Innocence was lost.
And God tells the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Ages have passed and now the woman and the dragon are in their glory. She is clothed with the sun and stands on the moon. He is no longer simply a snake, but a full-fledged dragon. Both are wearing crowns. She has twelve stars on her crown; and the dragon has a flashy gem-studded crown on each of his seven heads.
The woman is about to give birth. She is crying out in birth pangs. And the dragon, enraged and ready to destroy her soon-to-be newborn baby, sweeps a third of the stars out of the heavens. They come crashing to earth. The dragon then positions himself directly in front of the woman so that he might devour the baby once born.
But the sovereign God who reigns over all creation witnesses this violence and raptures the baby to a throne in heaven. The woman flees into the wilderness for safety. And the dragon pursues the child. In heaven, he is met by Michael the archangel and his warrior-angels. But the dragon is not alone. Many angels have chosen to follow this dragon. A war in heaven breaks out. The dragon is defeated and cast out of heaven.
But the dragon and his demons land on earth. A great cosmic cataclysm occurs. Heaven and earth shake.
And a heavenly voice thunders: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of Christ have come. The accuser is defeated. They have conquered the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.”
The dragon pursues the woman. But the woman has been given the wings of a great eagle and again evades the adversary. But the dragon continues his pursuit, and shoots water like a river from his mouth in an attempt to sweep away the woman with a flood. But the earth, our very planet, opens its mouth and swallows the water in order to protect the woman.
The woman is made safe.
But the dragon vows to make war on her children, who are “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
But we know that we have the victory.
Regardless of how big or powerful or how many heads the dragon has, it’s still a snake. And from Scripture, we learn again and again that hope and promise come through the seemingly vulnerable and insignificant people/places. This day the Christ child is born (to an unwed, teen mom on the margins of society). Let us continue to seek God in God’s chosen places.