This Thursday is Christmas Eve. It marks the end of Advent. But it also reminds us of the seriousness of Christmas.
The 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson said people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. So what might we need to remember during this season? How about the seriousness of Christmas?
I felt a bit of this as a boy attending our church’s Christmas Eve midnight service. It was muted, serious. But I didn’t know why. All I knew was that in the morning, Christmas turned fun, with tinsel and toys. And that’s exactly right – if you first experience the seriousness of Christmas.
I began feeling a few more bits after coming to Christ in 1973. I was big into music. The Beatles. Black Sabbath. Cream (love Clapton). So you can imagine my delight when I discovered Randy Stonehill – a songwriter and singer who, as a Christian, was a good ‘ol rock-and-roller.
So I got into Randy Stonehill. And his music got into me, especially, I’ve got news for you. [If you click the link, cut me some slack. This was 1976 for cryin’ out loud]. The chorus includes: I’ve got news for you, this is not a game. Stonehill was right about the first Christmas.
To see how right, look at the first Christmas from the vantage point of heaven. It’s in Revelation 12. A woman is about to give birth. She’s tortured with pain, a reminder of God’s oracle to the woman after the fall. Her pain is exacerbated by the appearance of an enormous red dragon. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.
Serious stuff. None of this, however, was news to the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. They saw the dragon as the serpent known as Lucifer, the devil. Before the earth was created, Lucifer led a rebellion against God. One-third of the angelic realm pledged allegiance to Lucifer, two-thirds remained loyal to God. God won, Lucifer lost, his angels were cast to earth, becoming demons.
This is why the earth is originally “formless and void,” a Hebrew phrase with ominous overtones of God’s judgment (Gen.1:2).[i] The creation is not perfect, as evil is lurking in the bushes. But its energy is only potential. Evil is not released until Lucifer deceives Adam and Eve, letting all hell loose on the heavens and the earth. It’s total war.
We see this in Revelation 12, where Lucifer is crouching greedily before the woman, seeking to kill the newborn. Miraculously, the baby is carried away to safety. A headlong flight into Egypt ensues, with hosts of demons on the tail of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (c.f. Matthew 2). Foiled, the serpent scans the horizon, declaring total war on all who follow the infant child.
This should give Christians pause. Lucifer, diabolically clever, secretly uses our fleshly desires to divide, conquer, and kill Jesus’ body. If you think I’m exaggerating, read James 4. Or read the New Testament. Two-thirds of it is written to correct turmoil and destruction in the church.
Or read G. K. Chesterton. He grew up in a tradition where the Christmas Eve midnight service was serious. It commemorated the forces of darkness and total war. The next morning, Christmas, was fun, as it ought to be. But Chesterton reminds us, “The fun of Christmas is founded on the seriousness of Christmas.”
In the church calendar, it’s fun that lasts for more than a day. It starts this Friday, Christmas, the first day of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I hope that, like Chesterton, you find the twelve days of Christmas fun are founded on the seriousness of Christmas found in Revelation 12.
[i] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Baker, 1988), 106.