Text: Revelation 12:1-12, 17, 13:1
Christmas is only a few days away so I wish everyone an early Merry Christmas. For kids, no holiday season even comes close to Christmas. Not Halloween, not the Easter Bunny. No, these are all distant seconds.
Growing up, I loved Christmas. I mean, you wake up and under the Christmas tree, there are boxes of toys just waiting to be opened. For a kid, how can you beat that?
I have a confession regarding Christmas that I’d like to share with everyone this morning because every time I come here I open up my heart and lay it on the table. I make myself vulnerable. And my confession is that I believed in Santa Claus until the 4th grade. You may think I am ashamed but I am not. Rather than labeling me as naive, you could see me as someone with a penchant for believing in the miraculous. I was a small boy with a big faith.
I did find it odd, though, that my parents would have me list out like 20 items on my wish list to Santa and you know by the 11th item, I am running out of ideas and I ended up getting like my 19th choice. In which I wrote something very generic like I want a robot. And sure enough, I got a robot. And it’s wasn’t a cool robot like a Transformer. No, it was one of those no-name robots that you got from the dollar store and it was labeled something like “Super Robot.” Our family was poor because my dad was a full-time PhD student and full-time working so I couldn’t expect the top of the line stuff, so I got Super Robot.
And I’d be happy playing with my Super Robot for Christmas morning and maybe the following day or two. But certainly, within a week, I got bored of that toy and it was lost in a bin with the rest of the toys.
Every Christmas starts with such promise. People are singing carols. I grew up on the east coast so there was snow on the ground. Santa was at the mall. I came into each Christmas holiday with such anticipation and child-like wonder. But every year, without fail, Christmas never quite lived up to the hype. Such great hope, but there was more joy, it seemed, in the anticipation of Christmas morning then the actual Christmas itself.
I wonder if you can identify with this. Christmas brings high hopes and makes bold promises — it’s a holly jolly Christmas, the best time of the year, peace on earth, the Savior has come — but does it really deliver what you anticipated? Or is it more hype and the waiting for Christmas is actually better than Christmas itself?
And that’s why I entitled this sermon — Why Are There So Many Scrooges During Christmas?
Rather than ho-ho-ho, I think Christmas is more of a ba-humbug for many people, including Christians. Christmas is not what it’s cracked up to be. I think the text I want us to read for today may give us some insight into why Christmas might be more stress and shopping than actual joy and peace.
Read text – Revelation 12:1-12, 17, 13:1
In our family, Jackie is big on Christmas. She likes Charlie Brown Christmas music. She likes getting Christmas trees and buying gifts and gathering with friends and family. So when I told Jackie that for this year’s Christmas message, I was going to teach from Revelation 12, she called me a Scrooge. And I know where this is coming from. Christmas is a time when chestnuts are roasting on an open fire and our stockings are filled with goodies from Santa. It’s a time when we talk about the incarnation and God’s love coming near to us and peace on earth. But we have to recognize the warning given in Revelation, that from a spiritual vantage point, this is perhaps the time of year when the spiritual battle is raging at its peak.
Just think about all the Christmas songs that we know by heart.
Away in a Manger
Away in a manger, no crib for his bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
Oh come ye, Oh come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels
Oh come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ, the Savior is born
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
These lyrics are so blatantly Christian. Yet, do most people pause and think about the lyrics? No, I don’t really think so. For many, these songs are just relegated to background noise as we shop at the mall. Any other time of the year, you play a Christian song on a secular radio station and people would be up in arms. How dare you infringe upon my religious freedom? But somehow during Christmas, these songs are so unabashedly proclaiming the birth of Christ and yet you don’t hear many complaints. You don’t hear festive songs from other religions. Only these Christian songs. And no one complains because these songs are just part of our holiday tradition. Plus, I don’t think most people even pause to ponder its meaning. It’s a strange phenomenon.
Christ, the Savior is born, radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth — these are lyrics that should stir our souls, or at the very least offend us, yet it’s just background noise and we are too busy or too desensitized to even notice what lyrics we are humming along with.
I think Revelation helps explain this disconnect. Things look a certain way on the surface, but we know something altogether different is occurring behind the scenes.
It’s like taking a Christmas photo. I don’t know about you, but our family always struggles when it comes to taking a Christmas photo. We don’t take many pictures to begin with. And most of our pictures are of the kids or one of the parents plus the kids, but not all 5 of us. So getting all 5 of us when 1 of us is named Elijah is quite a chore.
For our Christmas photo this year, we were pretty desperate. By the time Jackie gets home, it’s dark so outdoors was out. And our home lighting was too dim so we went to Target in the aisle of fake Christmas trees. This year we took our Christmas picture at Target in the row of fake Christmas trees. That’s how desperate we were.
You look at the final product, the Christmas photo and it’s just a snapshot of reality. Everyone may be smiling and happy, but you have no idea what it took to take that photo. Kids crying, bribery, yelling, just to get a split second of smiles and people looking at the camera. And out of 20 pictures, if we are lucky, we might find 1 that is half decent. You have no idea what went behind the scenes to get that picture.
And that experience reminds me of the Revelation version of the Christmas story. We have our snapshots of Christmas: the serene baby Jesus who never cries, the angelic face of mother Mary who ponders deep spiritual truths in her heart, the wise men worshipping. These are snapshots, but do we know what is going on behind the scenes? Reading Revelation is like getting a backstage pass and you get to see what happens before the actors get on stage.
Put another way, reading Revelation is like wearing night vision goggles. Without the goggles, it’s dark and you can barely make out some shapes and you miss many of the details. There might be a chair, a toy box, a bookshelf in the room and you can’t see them but they are there. We just can’t see them clearly. Reading Revelation is like putting on night vision goggles because it provides a new spiritual night vision to help us to see things we couldn’t see with our normal eyesight.
It’s like in 2 Kings 6, Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the attacking forces of the king of Aram. And in v15, we read,
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. And the servant says, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17
The servant could only see the attacking forces, but Elisha prayed and his eyes were open to the spiritual reality. Revelation gives us that same insight into a very familiar Christmas account. Even if you never stepped into a church, everyone knows the true meaning of Christmas. Whether it was the Charlie Brown Christmas TV show or Sunday school or a school play, we are very familiar with the birth of Christ and the whole nativity scene.
But do we see this very important holiday through spiritual eyes?