Christmas sermon series: God's Missionary Heart
The book of Revelation does not seem like a place to turn when looking for a sermon on Christmas. In fact, Revelation is probably the last place you would look to find the story, message, and hope of Christmas. However, Revelation gives insight into three Christmas realities: the history, the tension, and the power of Christmas. This sermon aims to discuss the power of God's salvation that comes to us at Christmas: Christ has come! Read Matthew 9:35-38, Matthew 28:18-20, and Romans 15:23-28 to gain insight on Christ's compassion, instruction, and heart for the gospel as it blesses and strengthens lives.
If the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge is any indication, many people experience Christmas as "the unhappy holidays." As one maid said one sad Christmas, "We have no money for gifts. I don't have a job. I feel like Job's twin. It's the unhappy holidays this year! I'm tired of hearing, 'Happy holidays!'"
Jesus came to earth by bursting into history as God's Son. Jesus arrived on the scene in a world of political tension, with the Romans and Jews at odds over politics, and Caesar Augustus at odds with Jerusalem and Judea. Jesus' birth delivered a new kind of reign, one different than the powerful Augustus.
The book of Revelation provides three things: visions of the future, appeals to the Church to follow Jesus, and God's plan for daily living in the midst of turmoil. What does Revelation 12:1-6 tell us about Christmas?
I. Look back into Christmas: God's plan
Revelation 12:1-2 unfold the drama of Christmas: the story of a virgin, a child to be born, and the pain of labor. In two simple sentences the writer of Revelation, John on the Greek isle of Patmos, revealed the history of Christmas. A virgin, Mary, gives birth to a child. The child comes into the world through the pain of labor. The child arrives in simplicity, a stable stall in Bethlehem in quietness beneath a star. Revelation 12:1-2 mentions twelve stars, no doubt a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel and an implied inference to God's plan of salvation through Abraham (Genesis 12:1) fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.
In the birth of Jesus, God came to earth fully divine and fully man. Theologians and scholars name the event the "incarnation." God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He came to earth, lived, died on the cruel cross, and rose again. He came, ultimately, to bring new life and eternal salvation. Christ makes all things new (II Corinthians 5:17).
I like the words of the Boston preacher Phillips Brooks in the 1800s: "The earth has grown old its burden of care, but at Christmas it is always young." History unveils the drama of Jesus' birth into the world. Christmas arrives in simplicity, glory and splendor, God's child with small fingers and hands, yet God's hands holding the world in his hands.
Think for a minute of what Christmas means: the newness, the freshness, the happiest of holidays because we celebrate the birth of Christ. The holidays are happy when we look back at Christmas and rediscover the freshness and newness of Christ's love, mission, and plan for our lives. At Christmas Christ lifts burdens and delivers a youthful excitement.
But did Jesus come without tension, at a time with no anxiety or problems in the world?
II. Look back into reality: Our struggle
Revelation 12:3-5 mentions the birth of Christ in its tension. The image provided is that of a fiery red dragon, fierce and opposed to the birth of the Christ child. Without explaining in detail, the red dragon symbolizes the opposition to Christ. In a sense, it refers to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. More specifically, it serves as an inference that Satan is alive and well on planet earth!
The early Church experienced the reality of Christ's coming daily - a war against culture, and an internal war against sin in the human heart. The drama of Revelation, its powerful image of the red dragon, indicates what Peter warned of in I Peter 5:8, "The devil is on the prowl as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." The devil aims to destroy. Tension swirls in our world. The result is anger, bitterness, broken relationships, and shattered hopes. Our struggle is against sin, the flesh, and the devil.
That is exactly why Christ came: to restore the broken, to comfort the battered, to lift up the fallen, to remove anger and replace it with joy, to turn the unhappy holidays into the happy Holy days of Christmas! Christ has come to bring peace, hope, and love.
To those who understood God's plan, Jesus' birth brought pure joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Christmas Sermons, puts it this way: "The coming of God is not only a message of joy, but also fearful news for anyone who has a conscience" (p. 25). Bonhoeffer's words share the good news in reverse: Those who reject Christ should fear, and those who believe in Christ should fear not!
How, then, should we live today?
III. Look up to the Lord: God's power
Revelation 12:6 says, "And her child was caught up to God and His throne." The writer of Hebrews 12:3 says that we are to look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus is with God and His throne, and that is where we are to look. We look to Christ this Christmas. In the tension - worldwide, local, and personal - look to Christ. In the unhappy holidays, look to Christ and ask him to make them holy.
Revelation ends as it begins - revealing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Revelation instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the One who will soon come. Revelation pulls back the curtain and unveils the drama: Christ has come to secure our future with salvation, strength for today, and hope for tomorrow. The power of Christmas is in Christ.
And so, I think of Christmas: the lights, the decorated trees, the ceramic manger scenes on mantles, Mary and Joseph struggling into Bethlehem on that starlit night. I think of Christmas: the stable stall and the pain and pangs of labor and the sound of a baby wailing in the night. I think of Christmas: an angry Herod, and a moaning mother, and a sweating Joseph, and then the gentle coo of a child. I think of Christmas: the birth of a child, and the red dragon, Michael and his angels at war, and Jesus defeating evil. It does not have to be unhappy or unholy. Look to Jesus. Look to him now.
And so I conclude with these words, the same ones you'll find at the end of Revelation (22:21): "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." Oh, happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Christ has come. Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!