In his book Reviving Old Scratch, author Richard Beck (one of my college professors) notes that we live in largely “disenchanted” times. Our wholesale embrace of the scientific leaves very little room for an enchanted view of the world these days. Four out of ten Christians don’t believe in the Devil. Many believers today are more likely to think of Satan as the personification of evil rather than a literal entity. A world filled with angels and demons sounds antiquated to our ears, perhaps even a bit embarrassing for those who would profess faith in an age of skepticism.
But as I read the Gospels in this season of Advent, I’m struck by the world of the Scriptures: angels appearing to old priests and young virgins and shepherds working the graveyard shift. In Matthew’s Gospel, the action begins with the will of God being communicated to Joseph in dreams on three different occasions (1:20; 2:13; 19). Using astrology, wise men arrive to worship the newborn babe before being warned not to return to Herod in yet another dream (2:12). Herod’s egregious execution of the male children in Bethlehem is a mournful reminder of the shadow presence of “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6). The world of the Scriptures constantly calls us to see beyond, to acknowledge the reality that our world is much more enchanted than we might think.
Don’t be fooled by the sentimentality of this season: the birth of the child is an act of war. For 200 years, the church has been singing:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
But nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is there nothing “calm” about the birth process, the arrival of this particular child is a signal that God is striking a decisive blow against the elemental spirits of the world who have enslaved humanity for far too long (Gal. 4:4, 9). This child will render these idols inoperative, exposing them as cosmic shams, leaving them powerless in their false claims of ultimacy. As the child emerges from the womb, the eternal reign of God is bursting into human history forevermore. The King of Kings has invaded hostile territory to deliver a literal death blow to the shadow forces of evil.
How we got “tender and mild” out of that story, I’ll never know.
With the arrival of this child, we’re reminded that our world is far more enchanted than we often believe. Messiah comes to our world to pick a fight — moreover, to win a war. Darkness recedes as King Jesus rescues a world in thrall to the enchanted powers of evil and reconciles it back to God. And now neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things yet to come, nor shadow powers, nor greatest height nor deepest depth, nor anything else in all creation — in heaven or earth or under the earth — will be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, the true Lord.
Wishing you and yours a Merry — and an enchanted — Christmas!