And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 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. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Pastor Marc's sermon on the Michael and All Angels (September 29, 2019) on Revelation 12:7-12. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
When did you first see the end of the world?
Now that’s sort of a silly question because, to the best of my knowledge, we’re all still here. The world hasn’t ended and I don’t think we’re living in some version of the movie The Matrix where we’re all trapped inside some elaborate computer simulation. Yet if you spend any time absorbing popular culture, you know that the end of the world is a story we tell all the time. We’re constantly inventing some cosmic event that threatens everything on earth but making sure to solve it before the movie ends. Humankind, I think, has been telling these stories for a long, long, time. And one that I’m particularly fond of used the last book of the Christian Bible, the book of Revelation, as its guide.
For those who don’t know, I’m a bit of a comic book geek, firmly engrossed in a “make-mine-marvel” worldview. But every once in awhile, DC Comics creates something that even I pay attention too. In 1996, they released a four issue comicbook series entitled “Kingdom Come.” That title alone sounds really Christian and they used a particular reading of the book of Revelation as an outline. The series itself is a bit of a pop culture remix, taking place in a future where Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman, have matured in their years. A whole new generation of heroes have emerged - and they number in the thousands. These so-called heroes defeated every supervillian but they’ve lost a sense of focus or purpose. They, instead, fight each other for territory and power. The series begins with an old superhero telling his pastor about the visions floating around his head. And the final vision we see is one filled with smoke, flames and fire. The old superhero quoted today’s reading from the book of Revelation. But instead of seeing a stereotypical angel, the old superhero saw a bat fighting an eagle dressed in red, white, and blue. And in a battle scene that seemed to engulf the world, there’s a super man screaming in anguish, and a star from heaven fell while surrounded by lighting.
I won’t spoil how the series ends but this pop culture use of the book of Revelation also reveals what we think the book is all about. We often approach Revelation as a kind of code book that, when properly decoded, reveals the true story about the end of the world. And we search for that code by taking events happening in the world today and matching them with what we see in Revelation. This code searching ends up breaking Revelation into pieces, with verses from one chapter being merged to the next, in at attempt to find the true story. And before we know it, the book of Revelation has been reduced to one grand event where good faces evil. The authors of Kingdom Come used Revelation in this way. They took today’s reading and merged it with other passages from the book to set the stage for one giant superhero infused faceoff. And once the pieces were in place, the authors assumed that the choices their characters made would determine which side wins. This pick-and-choose approach to Revelation created an end-of-the-world story where individuals and their choices determined what happened next. Now that makes for an exciting story because we soon find ourselves identifying with the heroes in it. But when we do that, we also wonder if maybe our individual choices have some kind of cosmic implications. This story about the end-of-the-world stops being something that only takes place in the future. And instead we end up wondering if the choice we make today might decide the battle between good and evil tomorrow.
Yet this approach towards Revelation doesn’t really work with today’s text. Our passage began with “War broke out” - so we imagine that we’re talking about some epic final battle. But when we keep the text in context and read all the other words around it, we notice the author doing something different. From a narrative point of view, the story had stopped moving forward. Instead, we find ourselves in the middle of a flashback where another remixed pop culture story is being told. Now, when Revelation first appeared, the Roman Emperors were really into a story about the greek God - Apollo. According to a popular myth at the time, the queen of heaven, Apollo’s mother, was attacked by a dragon - who represented all the chaos and discord in the world. Apollo, in response, destroyed the dragon, and in that moment, established a period of peace and prosperity in the world. The Roman Emperors claimed this story as their own, even going so far as calling themselves the sons of the god Apollo. They, by extension, had established a godly kingdom and they viewed all their enemies as some version of the evil dragon. Yet the followers of Jesus knew better. They had seen God’s true kingdom come near. It was through Jesus that they first witnessed what a kingdom rooted in love, welcome, and care looked like. Because Jesus, first and foremost, saw every person as one of God’s beloved. To the very first readers of the book of Revelation, the Romans were not the ones who slayed the dragon. Rather they were part of it. And the evil and chaos they were part of was still present in the world because, according to this remixed vision, the forces the defied God were lashing out. After being defeated in some distant past by Michael and all the forces of good, evil and chaos had fled to earth - the only place still available to them. Yet their presence in our world was never a sign of their so-called upcoming victory. Instead, the forces that defied God arrived already defeated. Although they might sometimes appear as if they are in control, those who rally against God’s kingdom have defeat at the core of who they are. A pick-and-choose approach to Revelation ends up missing the foundational truths that Revelation reveals over and over again. And that’s the promise at the heart of God’s words. When it comes to God’s ultimate victory, it does not depend on the individual choices people make. Rather, when it comes to the end of the world, it’s God, not evil, that has already won.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t have to live in this world. Jesus never promised those who followed him a life without hardship or struggle. We will find ourselves living through what feels like the end of our world. And there will be times when we choose fear and self-interest over God’s kingdom. There will be moments when we wish we had Wonder Woman’s strength to help us face the days ahead. And we will survive things that would cause even Batman to shed a tear. Yet we live, as Christians, live faithfully is this world because we believe that God knows what life is all about. God chose to enter the world as a baby - one that needed to be cared for. God chose to discover what it’s like to grow up, surrounded by the pop culture stories that we love to tell. And God knows what it’s like to have relationships and what it means to cry while standing outside a loved one’s tomb. As Christians, we know that there is no part of life that God does not go with us through. Because, through Jesus, God has already written another chapter for our story. We can, through baptism, faith, and grace, hold onto the promise that our name [including little Gwendolyn’s who will be baptized in just a few moments] is already written in heaven. And because we have that promise, we get to imagine our lives differently. Instead of looking at each one of our actions as being the ultimate turning point for how our story turns out, we get to instead live as if God’s promises actually come true. And since these promises are true, we then get to live in a God’s-kingdom-is-already-here kind of way. That means we get to welcome others like Jesus did; we get to heal like he did too. We get to build bridges and restore relationships between people. And we get to, regardless of turmoil, strife, and fear in our own lives, see every person around us as someone God already loves. This calling is one that’s not restricted only to the angels or superheroes in our lives. It’s also a calling that we, as Christians, get to live out right now. Because it’s through the Cross that everything in this world that defines you as unloved - has already come to an end. And, with Jesus, a new kingdom, rooted in all of God’s love has truly come.
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