Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7-12 ESV)
We see the world around us and try and live in it. Our eyes are wide open when we’re in new landscapes and cities – even if it’s only remembering which way the cars travel when we’re at the kerb. We take in so much data with our eyes and process it almost instantly or store it away for future thoughts – we note differences and similarities – more so when we’re new to a place – and we learn and grow – hopefully all the days of our lives. Of course what we see is not just a silent movie being played before us – we know that we need words as well to describe, explain, teach and inform us about what is going on. Seeing is not necessarily believing. We need sight and sound to function in the world – maybe more so in these days of special effects and mass media where the image can seem all pervasive and powerful and yet not overly reliable in communicating the truth – and there are still times when we want to see evidence with the words. And yes, we can function without one or the other – and people do so well – but we’d prefer both – to see the world and to hear and understand it.
And when we see something that we don’t immediately understand it is interesting that one of the phrases people say is, ‘What on Earth is going on?’.
Well, looking around it would seem that we have a small group gathering in a building. Of course the group is composed of very nice people – well certainly in public they are nice – and they stand and sit and sing and speak and listen and then go out again. It’s a meeting – human beings seem to have them in all forms and venues – possibly it’s the ultimate human activity – human beings just have so many of them!
Yes, we might reply – this is a meeting – but there is more going on than you can see! – and our words talk about a meeting of Heaven and Earth – a meeting where God has called his people to him – a meeting that is not ultimately determined by human decisions but by God’s Word – a meeting in which Jesus, the chief liturgist, brings his people by the power of the Spirit to the Father – a meeting in which angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven participate – a meeting that defies time and space and offers a precursor to eternity – a meeting through which God’s promises are fulfilled and the world is continually blessed.
And we can understand that, at times, such answers generate blank looks and the proverbial ‘Huh?’. On Earth eyes must give way to ears – we do so with history – and we do so if reality has hidden parts which is what religions talk about – and we do so on this day described by the followers of Jesus as ‘St Michael and All Angels’ where we hear about things in the heavens and things long ago – angels, war, victory and defeat, salvation, and consequences thereof.
Why read these words? Why preach these words? Because hidden behind these words – and all the scenes of Revelation – is the blood of the Lamb – God’s action in Jesus Christ who said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and “Go into all the word, baptising and teaching”. The written words about Jesus – “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ …” and
words from Jesus “Take and eat, take and drink” and these words in Revelation which Jesus told John to write down bring about new life. These words are powerful and they go up against other words – that pronounce or describe guilt, sin, shame – that point the finger “you are the sinner” – that accuse – sometimes falsely but many times horribly accurately – that deceive and drive to despair. These words from Jesus bring life and today we have been given the briefest glimpse ‘behind the curtain’ so to speak with all its speculation of the spiritual world however it is called and the followers of Jesus have been told to ‘take heart’ and ‘don’t be afraid’ because the evil of this world will not win; it has already been defeated!
In our world of mass media we know that bad news sells and is believed while good news is not overly profitable and is hard to believe. Christians confuse the issue more for the world – by declaring that the target event for Heaven and Earth – the activity the angels proclaim, promote or support – is the death of Jesus on the cross. Hardly pleasing to the eyes, this however is the best good news of all! Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension brings the world into focus rather than to order (Lutherans should never seek to create a Geneva, a 16th century experiment of Heaven on Earth). Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension gives hope where none seems to be possible, even laughs in the face of death for death doesn’t have the final say – its sting is gone – and promotes love in all the relationships in which we find ourselves.
In our world, knowledge and wisdom are open for review, revision, and growth. Science, politics, technology and the way we do things build on the past – for good or for ill. We live in a changing world – and participate it in as well. And yet we do so conscious that there is more to this world – to reality – than what we can see – and for us, as followers of Jesus, it is because the story of and the reality of and the truth of a cross and empty tomb has captured us, enthralled us, taken hold us and given us life – and meaning and purpose.
Because of these words and the Word made flesh, we know that life is more than what we see. Yes, there will be light bulb moments of insight and the gradual dawning of realisation of spiritual realities – faith in Christ can come quick and slow. And no matter what versions of spiritual reality the world offers – what problems and conflicts the world says is vital to fight – Christians know that the ultimate reality, the starting point for living in this world is not fear but a confidence that even the battles in Heaven have been concluded and the evil on Earth will not be victorious in the end – all because of a single cross – a single death.
Yes, battles of all sorts still rage here within us and within society and one key place in which these battles are taken on is the so often nondescript, humble, ordinary meetings of groups of people who gather around the throne and the Lamb – around words and water, bread and wine – and who when they sing the ‘Gloria in excelsis’ or the Sanctus can almost hear Michael and Gabriel and all the angels and archangels also singing praises to God for the salvation he has won and brought to us. And then having received from God what we need and prayed to God for what we and the world need – and confident God will not sit on his hands – we go out rolling up our sleeves back into living in this world!
- Revelation 12:7 - 12