Christmas Is An Act of War

The poem, “Christmas Is An Act of War” is from my book, “Ruining Christmas,” which unpacks the darker glories of the Christmas story. It’s available on Amazon as a stocking stuffer for your most obnoxiously holly-jolly relative.

A couple years ago I was at a candlelight Christmas Eve service, which is one of my favorite services of the year. I’ll admit it; despite my constant railing against clichéd Christmas sentimentality, I’m a sucker for a candlelit, a cappella rendition of “Silent Night.” Gets me every time.

But eventually, all those services kind of run together. Every year you sing the same carols, hear the same general homily, and go home and drink the same egg nog around the same tree. Sentimentality, while endearing and useful for all sorts of warm-fuzzy holiday feelings, is too soft to leave any indelible impressions on the memory.

But this particular year was different. Because right in the middle of singing “Joy to the World,” an elderly gentlemen in the back of the church had a heart attack. 911 was called, paramedics arrived, and it definitely ruined the holiday mood a little. The gentleman ended up being okay, and we finished out the service as usual, but the juxtaposition of what we were singing—“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!”—and the harsh reality of what we were seeing, really struck me. At first it seemed almost silly to sing, “He rules the world with truth and grace,” when all around and in the pews was convincing evidence of the opposite.

But as I stood there thinking about it, the words we were singing began to take on a new significance. “Repeat the sounding joy!” began to feel less like naïve optimism and more like a battle cry, a call to arms against the darkness, an insurrection anthem in a world still groaning in between the first and second comings of the Prince of Peace.

I went home that night with a heart more full of the wonder of Christmas than any year before or since, because I had—really for the first time—glimpsed what Christmas is all about. It’s not about a warm stable and gentle mother and tender baby and singing angels; it’s about a desperate family and impoverished shepherds and a helpless baby, and above it all the improbable war anthem of the angels: “Peace on earth!” Christmas is what happens when heaven’s champion invades our darkness on a rescue mission that will cost him his life. And so Christmas is messy. Christmas is ugly. And in its messiness and ugliness, Christmas meets us right where we are.

That night, I went home, picked up a pencil, and jotted down words that became a poem I’ve returned to every Christmas since. I call it “Christmas Is An Act of War.”

While singing songs one holy night
About the birth of love’s pure light,
I felt more deeply than before:
Christmas is an act of war

The baby in a manger came
As conqueror, to end sin’s reign
God invaded Satan’s shore;
Christmas is an act of war

Amidst our brokenness and pain,
Curse and fall and evil’s reign
He comes to spread His blessings far;
Christmas is an act of war

He appeared to take our sin
The curse undo and victory win
The devil’s work to full destroy
And shatter grief with sounding joy

So joyful and triumphant sing,
Battle hymns then let us ring
Insurrection anthems pour;
For Christmas is an act of war

Joy to all the world we sing,
Glory to the newborn King
Christ the Victor come adore
For Christmas is an act of war

There’s a great quote by C.S. Lewis about this: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” Christmas is the opening salvo in that campaign to retake this fallen world for the rightful king. And today, the Christmas war still continues as the King calls us into his kingdom and then tells us to take up arms—not weapons of guns and violence but of love and sacrifice—against the retreating darkness.

That’s a campaign I want to give my life to, because Jesus has promised that he wins in the end. His kingdom is unstoppable, his purposes are invincible, and though setbacks and sin and Satan still seem at times to reign supreme, the Christmas promise of Isaiah 9:7 still holds true: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” If you are in the kingdom of Jesus, you are part of his ever-expanding reign of peace that will one day conquer hell, vanquish every enemy, and fill the universe with joy and glory forever.

So what should our attitude at Christmas be? Not naïve nostalgia or materialistic cravings. Not superficial spirituality, but a deep and abiding confidence in the King who came, who conquered, and who is coming back.

Joy to all the world we sing,
Glory to the newborn King
Christ the Victor come adore,
For Christmas is an act of war.

“Christmas Is An Act of War” as a dramatic reading:

“Christmas Is An Act of War” as a choral performance, composed by Darren Schmidt:

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