Feast Day: Michaelmas
Readings: Revelation 12:7-12
“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,” (Revelation 12:11).
When you think about what it means to be a Christian what sort of things come to mind? Perhaps living a moral life. Or, maybe, working to make the world a better place. Or raising our children to love Christ. How about cosmic warrior? Let me frame it in a way that you may not have heard before: Christians have a vocation along with the angels to participate in Christ’s defeat of Satan and the powers of darkness. To be a Christian is to be enlisted in a cosmic battle. It is to have one’s eyes opened to the reality of the unseen world that God has made and the reality of evil and darkness, and to fight with the weapons that Christ himself has given us.
Turning to this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of Revelation we cast our collective gaze up with John: “And war broke out in heaven.” Michael, the General of God’s army, and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels who fought back but were defeated and subsequently cast down from heaven to earth for, “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” I love that line. Evil has not a home nor a future with God. There is literally no place for them.
The feast of St. Michael and All Angels is, “explosive and gritty,” cutting to the heart of what is real: “It does not offer escape. It offers blood and sweat and tears, the great struggle for all that is good against the dark desire to destroy it. And it offers the sure and certain hope of victory. This is the feast of the battle won.”
St. Michael and the angels are victorious in this battle but how? “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb.” That is to say, this is the victory of the Lamb over all that which would oppose him. It is worth noting that this battle scene is inserted into the middle of another scene in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, one in which a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” is in the midst of the agony of childbirth and there in front of her stands the dragon, “so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born,” (12:4).
And this firstborn child we are told is a son, “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” This language hearkens back to one of the great messianic Psalms (Psalm 2), and this child is of course Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of his people. And yet, here he is, vulnerable, the dragon waiting to consume him.
Lest we think that good and evil confront one another as equals the tension is resolved almost immediately as the baby is taken up to the throne of God (12:5). There is an element of risk here to be sure, but this child is the Son of God and as such is sovereign over every enemy. The dragon’s jaws snap shut, and come up with nothing but air.
The curious thing about this birth scene, however, is that it is followed immediately by an ascension. Which begs the question, when is it that Christ ascends to God’s right hand? Not at his birth but rather after his crucifixion and resurrection. That is to say, the birth in this story is a metaphor for Jesus’ death, “his entry into the only true life, the life of God.” Satan seeks to devour Christ, and thinks that in the cross he has succeeded, but as we heard in our other readings this morning, the cross becomes the ladder which unites heaven and earth and the body of Christ himself is the Way on which the world may walk back to God.
“But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb.” This is a battle that Christians as well as the angels are enlisted in. Just because the Lamb has conquered, those who have been washed in his blood too can conquer. Just because the woman’s firstborn has conquered, so too, “the rest of her children,” (12:17) may conquer. Indeed, some interpreters see in Michael and his angels a figure for Christ and his followers. To be a Christian is to become a participant in a cosmic battle with Christ and the angels against the forces of evil.
This is not, however, reason to perpetrate violence. We take our cues from the Lamb, who conquered his enemies not by the shedding of their blood but by the shedding of his own blood. So too those who are marked by the Lamb (14:1) conquer not by violence but by self-giving love. As the Apostle Paul writes elsewhere: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,” (Ephesians 6:12).
How are Christians to take up arms then in this cosmic battle against the Devil and the powers of darkness? “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.” As followers of Jesus we participate in his once-for-all-decisive victory over the powers of sin and death by “the word of our testimony,” that is by bearing witness to the Lamb that was slain.
For Christians, this starts in baptism for it is here that we are confronted by Jesus Christ the true witness, the one who tells us the truth about ourselves by claiming us as God’s own. And so in baptism we follow Christ into his death that we might follow him into the very life of the triune God.
From there we take up arms and bear faithful witness as we gather around the table and eat and drink Christ’s flesh and blood. And we bear faithful witness as we sing “holy, holy, holy.” And as we pray, “thy kingdom come.” And as we pray for our enemies. And as we live lives of Christian charity and love, giving ourselves in sacrificial love to one another. And as we read and meditate upon God’s word. And as we proclaim the good news of God’s love in Christ to those who are unaware. Each of these Christian practices and more is a blow struck against the devil and your ordinary life of daily faithfulness to Christ in the little things, your struggle to resist temptation and to flee from sin, your struggle to pray and to love one another, all of this is a testimony to the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness.
So do not give up but persevere. And believe not the lies of that conquered devil, the original bearer of false witness, who spreads the false rumor that the Christian life and witness mean nothing to God, that a life devoted to God is a life wasted. For this is how Christians conquer—loving God and loving neighbour, even enemy—by taking the humble road of self-giving, the giving of our whole life as an offering unto God in Christ. This is how Christians conquer because this is how Christ conquered—and we in him—for the life of the world.
“Bless the LORD, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion; bless the LORD, O my soul,” (Psalm 103:22). Amen.
 Catherine Sider-Hamilton, http://feastfastferia.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/st-michael-and-all-angels/
 Joe Mangina, Brazos Theological Commentary: Revelation, 152