When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
As we continue our series through the Church Calendar, during the season of Epiphany, we can unpack the explosive implications of Christmas.
Christmas is not just a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christmas is also God’s declaration of War against Evil. Christmas means War.
The season of Epiphany invites us to investigate the logical outworking of Christmas. With Jesus’ birth as Messiah, God announced that all other rulers of the world are illegitimate. This is why the non-Jewish Magi come to adore the newborn Jewish King who would bring God’s rule to earth.
The nations are not ruling the world according to God’s Principles of Justice and Holiness. And so Jesus’ birth was God’s declaration of war against all evil–human evils, the evils of sin and disease and death, and spiritual evils.
But evil does not go away quietly. The forces of evil–of sin, death, and empire–always strike back. Every part of Jesus’ mission was met by opposition from the forces of evil. This included Roman opposition, Jewish opposition, Satanic opposition, and even opposition by Jesus’ own disciples, like when Peter denies him and Judas betrays him.
This opposition started at the very beginning of Jesus’ story. In Matthew 2, when the Wise Men come following the sign of the star to Bethlehem, they stop in Jerusalem and ask where they can find Messiah. King Herod learns of this and is alarmed–his reign is illegitimate and he knows it–and he orders the death of every male baby in Bethlehem so that no new King from the line of David can take his throne away from him. Innocent children are slaughtered so that one man can secure his power. This is what Evil’s Reign looks like.
This world is under captivity to evil, dark forces. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous to modern ears, but the Bible is clear: Evil is real, and it wields seductive power. It’s a power that turns brothers and sisters against each other–Cain against Abel. It’s a power that causes nations to war against one another. And it’s a power that corrupts each and every one of us–no matter how good we are, no matter how moral we may think ourselves to be, there is a spiritual force of evil that crouches at our door, that lies waiting, seeking to destroy us and take everything good from us.
And the thing evil wants most of all is ourselves. It wants our minds and our hearts, corrupted and selfish and hardened and closed to joy. It wants us grasping for lesser things so that we cannot be free to enjoy the fruits of love that God wants us to bear. And the final desire of evil is destruction–it wants us to destroy one another with our jealousy and our rivalry, and it wants us to destroy ourselves.
The simple truth is, we cannot defeat evil on our own. We are too weak. And so, for most of human history, all of mankind has been enslaved to the Kingdom of the Devil. Brother is pitted against brother, parent against child, rich against poor, black against white, the strong against the weak–this is the history of our world.
And this is the good news of Christmas, unpacked and outworked in Epiphany. God did not abandon us to the power of the Devil and sin and death. Instead God, in an act of great love for us, became a human being–and not just any human being, but a human being who would suffer for us in our place to win us from the Devil. Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrifice who purchases us from the Devil and death. And those of us who believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are now freed from the Kingdom of the Devil, and we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. Evil can try its hardest against us now, but we know that the final victory will be ours because of Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
Christmas is God’s declaration of war because in Jesus Christ, God invades the Kingdom of the Devil and He immediately begins confronting evil. Look at Jesus’s life. Jesus battles the Devil by healing– he reverses disease and death. Jesus battles the Devil with his teaching–in the Sermon on the Mount he tells us that when someone strikes us not to hit back but to turn the other cheek.
Satan, through King Herod, was trying to squelch the in-breaking Kingdom of God by murdering the baby Jesus in the cradle. But God’s plan of redemption would not be frustrated. Joseph is warned, and he takes his family to Egypt, and so Jesus escapes Herod’s monstrous actions.
The Empire of Evil always fights back against God’s plan of redemption. Christians know the final victory is assured to us, but we must heed the warning that evil will not disappear without a fight.
The Devil will always try to seduce us, and turn us into monsters like Herod. None of us can serve two masters. Either we serve the Kingdom of God, or we serve the Kingdom of the Devil. Either we serve light, or we serve darkness. And there is a war that continues to today between these two realms.
What are you really living for? Is it security? Is it success for yourself or your children? Is it peace–you don’t want conflicts in your life?
Those are all good things. But the message of the Bible is that when you make good things ultimate things–when your main priority is security, or success, or peace, then the Devil will come in to subvert those good desires to serve evil purposes. You start to short-cut some moral principles to make sure you or your children get ahead. You refuse to show other people mercy if it means sacrificing your security. You hesitate to confront evil if it means a loss of your own peace. You murder children to preserve your own power.
The message of Christmas, unpacked in Epiphany, is that God has made a way for us out of slavery to the Devil by entering into this world as the perfect human being, the kind of human we can’t be. He has launched his rescue operation for humanity because He knows we cannot save ourselves. He has started this war, and He has struck the decisive blow in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And now, we are invited into the battle against the Devil. But we don’t fight this battle by trying to destroy others–that is the way of the Devil. Instead we fight this battle in the way of Christ, who died out of love for his enemies.
If we are soldiers in the way of Christ, that means we fight this war by sacrificing our interests and dedicating our lives to serving others out of obedience to God, just like Jesus. Because of grace, we help others who we are tempted to think don’t deserve our help, and we even love those who hate us. We defeat the Devil by sharing in Christ’s love for the world, even when it demands everything from us.
Christmas is a declaration of war. And the question all of us need to ask ourselves in the season of Epiphany is this: Which side are we on?