In the past few years, Nativity scenes have become a stage not only depicting Jesus Christ’s birth, but a battleground for religious and anti-religious expression. My opinion on that is NOT the subject of tonight’s blog. In fact, this might get the staunchest lovers of Nativity scenes’ swaddling clothes in a twist, let alone my non-Christian and non-Christmas celebrating friends. Still, we’re Americans, darn it. Angering people on the internet is what we do now.
I’m a bit sad to say that somehow in my 6 years of marriage, I haven’t acquired a nativity set. For four of those six years we’ve moved the week of Christmas, which guaranteed we were with family but also that our belongings were in boxes. Now I’m looking for a set for our own (to buy 50% off after Christmas, thank you) . Many sets are beautiful and as different as the families that purchase them. As I grew up, our nativity was a delicate wood figure that I loved to study with my little child eyes. We were a family that had the magi far off, always set out while it was explained that they found him as a toddler, there was probably more than three, etc. I remember my father telling us that it might not have been a stable, that there were many angels around although our scene didn’t show that, etc. This was a symbol. I loved it. For a tiny person learning that God came into the world just like I did, it was as exciting to me as the tree.
This year as I considered what was important to include in my depiction of Christ’s birth, a new thought dawned on me. I imagined something that I haven’t in 28 years of reading, drawing, acting out, and pondering the story of Jesus Christ’s birth—there is someone very important missing. Indeed, we almost forget about him.
Going back to Scripture for the roll call; we can see who is supposed to be there. Mary and Joseph were there with the baby. Poor Mary is fully dressed, kneeling, and ready to accept visitors- probably not quite accurate. The shepherds found the ‘babe wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (plus a few sheep). The three wise men (in all their controversial glory), sometimes with camels are also there. A few extra barn yard animals may be added for good measure. Many have the star over the manger, and maybe an angel or two in beautiful reverence. All accounted for. This year, it occurred to me that behind that first angel who scares the sandals off the shepherds, we see a whole HOST of angels singing. Luke 2:12: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”
I LOVE to picture it. Not cute half-naked baby cherubs. Not beautiful FEMALES in push up bras. Instead, I picture terrifying figures that scared men who fought off wolves and lions into immediate reverence. These fierce warriors are sounding a celebratory cry that the Savior of the earth had arrived.
If you’ve ever longed for a baby to be born and for a war to be won, I can assure you a joyful battle cry is what was being sounded. So where did they go? Just one decided to hang around? No. I submit to you this: The reason that there was peace on Earth was because a mighty spiritual war had been raging in the heavens.
The missing figure we don’t see depicted who is crucial to the story, is Satan. Much like the phrase, “There is an empty place at the table”, I think Satan’s is the “empty place at the stable.”
Of course, we don’t show Herod far off in the nativity scene either, and he is the one we usually think of as the villain of the story who is trying to kill Jesus. It makes sense. If you knew an adversary who would overtake your throne was about to be born as a helpless baby, you’d attack too. Consider the danger Mary was in for the entire pregnancy, the potential for complications, etc. Truly, as she was battling those 3 am feedings, an angel warned Joseph to take them and run for their lives. Off to Egypt they went. If Herod deceived and sent out the magi as scouts, ultimately killing newborn baby boys, would not Satan do the same? He’s been trying to thwart God since the beginning using every form and circumstance possible. Kill Jesus is an ultimate win. While Satan has a square off with Jesus later in his life, he was probably bound from the actual birthing area. If not, good grief does Mary have the ultimate ‘unpleasant people at the birth’ trump card. Really though, do you ever imagine what Satan and his demons were doing on the night of Christ’s birth? The scriptures leave them unaccounted for- rightfully overshadowed by the Light of the World.
Mary seems to have been more isolated in the physical location of her birth, but I can’t help but think every supernaturally evil effort was being made to thwart the successful birth of the Christ. Furthermore, every supernatural effort of the legions Jesus later mentions would be ready to fight off that attack and joyously cry out a victory yell. When being arrested and led to the cross, Jesus famously tells his disciples “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52, 53) More than twelve legions…talk about a baby reception and birth announcement.
When I delivered my firstborn son, there was a moment when things were suddenly dangerous. I looked around the room and saw 9 people with intense, at-the-ready expressions. My son’s neck was wrapped by the cord, and there were complications afterward. In that moment, everyone’s attention was on this baby boy and springing into action to eliminate threat.
Granted, one word from God could silence Satan and very well could have. I’m not certain an Armageddon-type war was even raging that night. Indeed, the God who created the universe and this divine appointment may have simply bound the enemy with one Heavenly smack-down word.
My amazing younger sister said something very profound regarding supernatural warfare; “I find great comfort in the fact that only 1/3 of the angels became demons. That means they are outnumbered 2 to 1.” What a perspective. Peace on Earth—provided by a God and perhaps his angels in the middle of the war Satan wages against humans every moment of the day.
As humans, we have followed suit in declaring temporary official and unofficial treaties for Christmas. Those that attack on Christmas Day anyway and are given a raised eyebrow. Peace on Earth. No one desires it more than one weary of war. What greater war is there than one against sin and death? Perhaps seven years married to a soldier has brought to light the cost of war and what is worth going to war over. The lengths to which God went to provide a Savior for the world is powerful when I picture a heavenly war raging and cling to what the War to Come might look like– and more importantly, the victory.
Now, 12 legions of angels may be a bit much for a nativity scene. I know I don’t have the counter space. How Satan would be depicted causes a whole mess of problems. Indeed, leaving these figures out is probably for the best. However, don’t leave them out when you imagine the scene of Christ’s birth. As you consider the birth of Jesus this Christmas, consider every angelic warrior and evil power was attentive and their every action pointed toward Christ. It brings to light a new perspective on where my focus should be this Christmas.
I extend that heartfelt love of a soldiers’ wife to the families who have a soldier overseas this year, I know reality is harsh; Peace on Earth is not here yet. It was once, and it will be again.
It’s coming. It’s almost time. Keep pushing, keep breathing. Behold, He is coming soon.