When I was little, I loved going upstairs on Christmas Eve by the yellow glow of the tree lights, feeling that cozy sense of anticipation for the morning, stuffed with Christmas dinner and cookies and eggnog and excitement. The whole world sparkled with magic and wide-eyed wonder.
Then years passed, faster and faster each time around, and suddenly it seems like it was JUST Christmas, how is it here again already? The magic goes missing and I find that we will suffer through a lot of cheesy Hallmark movies and packed shopping malls in an effort to get it back - all before we collapse on the couch surrounded by destroyed wrapping paper thinking wow, this is such a production. And for what? Even the story gets old; how many sermons do we need on Luke 2, how many times can we force up empathy for the plight of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem? How do we keep any meaning in the words "Glory to God in the highest"?
Maybe it's time to let Christmas be about something other than feelings, something deeper than an emotional response.
Only two of the four Gospels contain the account of Jesus' birth, and between Matthew and Luke, Luke's is the more detailed and more famous. But even from Luke's painstaking record there is a perspective missing.
It's a perspective that's often missing from our celebrations as well.
It's heaven's view of the nativity story.
Can this even be found in the Bible? Yes. The apostle John fills it in for us in one of the Bible's most concise summaries of the great story arc of history. This isn't an oft-quoted Christmas chapter, or even an oft-quoted chapter in general; the book of Revelation rarely is. And yet we need it. We need to see Christmas the way God does.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and His throne. . . .
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
"Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. . . ."
And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. . . . So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Revelation 12:1-5, 7-11, 13-14, 17
We hear many times over, and rightly so, that the Christmas story sets the stage for our salvation. But those words begin to lose meaning when we lose sight of what's happening behind the scenes of what we can see with our eyes - when we forget what we have been saved from, and how much God put at stake to accomplish it.
The woman is the nation of Israel, God's beloved. The child is Jesus Christ, God's Son. For many generations before Bethlehem the Dragon tried to kill God's beloved, tried to destroy the plan to save fallen humanity; and so, when the birth of Jesus succeeds, Satan is there, furious, violent, prepared for war.
But so is the army of God.
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.
The angels who appeared to the shepherds were not just an announcement party - they were guardians of the Child, a legion of God's strong ones prepared to take on the soldiers of Satan.
Satan never wanted to wait around for the crucifixion to destroy God's plan of salvation. He was there when Abraham got impatient waiting for Sarah to conceive as God had promised, and had a son with a servant instead. He was there when two of Judah's sons died and his family line was at risk of extinction. He was there when Hannah doubted that she would ever have the son that would one day anoint King David.
He was there every time Saul tried to end David's life. He was there when Israel turned her back on God, and when the holy people were taken into captivity among pagans. He was there in the silent 400 years of Israel's waiting for a word from the Lord, losing hope that the Messiah would ever come.
And he was there in Bethlehem when, in spite of all his evil efforts, God prevailed.
Growing up, the magic of Christmastime diffuses. And there's always a bit of wistfulness in the memories of what once was. But the heavenly perspective of Christmas is far more than warm fuzzy feelings - it is triumph. It is the sovereignty of God. It is the gift of joy and hope to every one of us, not because it promises us peace or happiness or ease, but because it marks the long-awaited victory of heaven's hardest-fought battle.
Because it is the proof to a dark and discouraged world that God was - and is - still fighting for us.
The war rages on, and the banished dragon continues to fight relentlessly to destroy the followers of God. But when the baby lived - when Jesus lived and died and rose again - Satan's ultimate defeat was sealed.
Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down.
Forget about forcing the excitement of childhood back into Christmas and instead turn your eyes upon YHWH, awed that He would wage a millennia-long war to save your soul.
Glory to God in the highest.