It’s important for the Church, especially in Eastertide I think, to celebrate the power of the cosmic victory of good over evil. A great war has taken place in heaven. Lucifer and his regiment of angels decided to fight every work of God and tried to conquer heaven. But the devil’s ultimate defeat was assured and along with his rebellious army, this fallen angel was hurled permanently down to the earth. Cast out of heaven.
This spiritual battle has been represented in a myriad of ways from the earliest centuries of the Church to the present. From sculptures of St. Michael’s victory over the devil – there’s one, which hangs outside Coventry Cathedral that makes it a fitting symbol of the triumph of good over evil, following the destruction of the old cathedral in WW2.
Michael is a high-ranking angel and one of his responsibilities is to protect God’s people. Angels are guardian servants ministering to believers: “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” (Ps.91:11). Every year, around the end of September this victory against evil is marked by the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas – as in the school term leading up to Christmas.
As so much more happened at Christ’s birth, death and resurrection I think we need to remember this victory every day, because Jesus is Lord over the devil, over sin and over death. That’s because of the Cross and that’s why a voice is heard shouting loudly across the heavens that, “The blood of the Lamb has won the victory.” What this means is that it is only through the humility and sacrifice of Jesus that the power of evil has been overcome.
So why does the supremacy of Christ matter to us in this postmodern, some would say post-Christian country? Well, being postmodern with our enlightenment, our scientific and technological understanding means that we our naturally skeptical when it comes to subjects like good and evil. I know that for me God is more real than anything else. Yet there is no room for believing anything which cannot be proved.
That’s why we must unpack the battle between Christ and the devil for there are tremendous energies, powers and principalities in the unseen realms that we can’t possibly comprehend.
I want to suggest that’s why great stories like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” are so popular as ultimately with the power of the authors’ imagination they are dealing with this reality, and their stories abound with many biblical themes. Tolkien was a Christian and his protagonist – the dark lord Sauron – is a manipulative spirit who tempts people…that’s not coincidence. The devil, remember first tempted our ancestors at the dawn of creation to reject God the Creator and seek to become gods themselves.
And as the great arch-deceiver in every age and every culture, the devil, whose cunning knows no bounds, wants us to believe right now that God is not really the Creator and Saviour – that we too can be “gods” and exist independently, rejecting His Word and rebelling against His rule. Making us devilish if we succumb. And if He can’t get us to deny Christ, he will be happy if we distort Christ.
Never underestimate the power of evil as we are caught up in the conflict between good and evil in our daily lives. The victory of the war in heaven was won but humanity has always been drawn into the battle. What tips the balance? Do we choose ways which are life-giving, not just of us but for others? Or are we tempted to take paths which are destructive for us and those we love? Do we live for ourselves or do we have a vision of something greater?
Humility is not a quality we rate highly today and can be seen, in some circles, as a sign of weakness. It’s what we call an elusive virtue. There’s a story of a vicar storming into a local bookshop enquiring furiously why his book on humility was not prominently displayed in the window! Yet it is no accident that humility, alongside the victory of good over evil, belong together. Just look at Christ’s humility in washing His disciples’ feet and ultimately on the Cross.
Humility believes what the Gospel says about our desperate need for God. Charles the Great (Charlemaine) was called the “Father of Europe” as he united most of Western Europe (something Angela Merkel can’t do!). His rule led to a period of cultural and intellectual revival for Christendom and the promotion of the Gospel during the Saxon Wars. He was only Emperor for thirteen years but very powerful, militarily and economically.
When he died his funeral cortege came to the cathedral and were shocked to find the gate bared by the bishop. “Open up”, the herald shouted, “for Charlemaine, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire!” Answering for God, the bishop replied, “I don’t know him.” The herald, a bit shaken, answered, “Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth!” Again the bishop answered, “I don’t know this man.” Now completely crushed, the herald says, “Charles, a lowly sinner who begs the gift of Christ.”Him I know”, the bishop replied, “You may enter!”
What this tells us is that a Christ like attitude is everything. A bad attitude is like a flat tyre – you can’t go anywhere until you change it! Jesus took a little child, probably a girl at the very bottom of the pecking order, and placed her in the middle of His self-centred disciples to help them get the point about humility: “Unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt.18:2-4).
By this Jesus meant that we have a choice. We can follow the path of pride and selfishness. But this will lead us to a distorted view of the world in which we exploit people for our own gain and end up damaging both ourselves and others. Although not to everyone’s taste, the recently Oscar nominated film, The Wolf of Wall Street, based on a true story of the decadent lifestyle of a criminal stockbroker, highlights this point really well.
Or we can choose the path of humility, which calls us to turn away from ourselves and towards God. This church, your school chapel is a good place to contemplate how you look at the world remembering that Jesus changed our focus – and the greatest thing we can all achieve is finding our place in the Kingdom of Heaven with childlike faith in our hearts.
Matthew McConaughey took the best actor award at the last film academy awards. During his speech, he praised God, “Because that’s who I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand”, he added. I honestly can’t think of a time when I’ve heard an actor give such a humble display of affection towards God.
Humility gives us hope. Jesus shows us a new way of conquering the demons of pride and destructiveness. He shows us a new way of living, which is transformative for others: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Mt.6:33). And when one more flesh and blood sinner is rescued from death and the grave, all the company of heaven rejoice.
The angels sang in exultation when Jesus was born. But God responded to His humility by exalting Him far above kings, emperors and even Hollywood stars. He invites us to triumph in our own struggles, to celebrate the victory of good over evil and to share Christ’s resurrection glory with Him – not through power or pride – for first we must walk in humility on His road to glory – and that’s the road of the Cross.
Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, as we come to the end of our time together we thank you for what has been accomplished here today. May we leave here recognizing you are the God of all wisdom, history and hope and you are willing to lead us forward. Amen.