Christmas Shock and Awe


Christmas Shock and Awe
Brian Zahnd

Suddenly the angel was joined by a vast host of others,
The armies of heaven,
Praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And peace on earth.

–Luke 2:14

This is Christmas shock and awe. D-Day circa 5 BC. The night skies over Bethlehem are suddenly filled with an invading army — an army from another world, an army representing another government, an army from heaven. This army has come in the cause of regime change. The world is about to be given a new day, a new kingdom, a new lease on life. Caesar, Pharaoh, Herod and all their kind are being supplanted by a newborn king — the King of the Jews. He is the long-awaited Prince of Peace. This is why the armies of heaven are invading the night skies over Bethlehem.

Nearly 250 times the Old Testament describes the God of Israel as the LORD of Hosts, Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of Armies. Now at the birth of God’s chosen king the armies of heaven invade earth with shock and awe. This is why the shepherds were “sore afraid.” But they need not have been. This is not a killing army, but a singing army. This army comes, not to kill, but to carol.

The text in Luke says the angels were saying, but Christian imagination has interpreted their saying as singing. I like that. The army of heaven is a choir — combat by chorus. The army of heaven doesn’t launch missiles, it launches into song. The heavenly army sings of the glory of God and of peace on earth.

Happy Christmas.
War is over.
If you want it.

You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world. And there’s two ways to go about it: The way of Herod’s death squads or the way of Heaven’s armies. Paranoid King Herod harnesses the power of violence for the sake of preserving power and privilege (Matthew 2:7-18). The problem with this approach is that innocent children will die. Whether it’s by ancient soldiers on the ground or modern drones in the air, unleashing lethal violence against perceived threats always leads to a slaughter of innocents.

When the Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem the armies of heaven didn’t launch hellfire missiles from the sky, instead they sang heavenly songs about peace on earth. How impractical. How ineffective. How naïve. Or… How beautiful. I choose to call an army that combats evil by singing songs of peace a beautiful thing. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. As a Christian I believe that a baby born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, a baby whose birth we celebrate every December 25th, is the child king Isaiah sang about long ago…

There will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.
Nevertheless, that time of darkness will not go on forever.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war
Will be burned.
For a child is born to us,
A son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
Will never end.

(Isaiah 9:1–7)

I believe this baby foretold by Isaiah has been born.
I believe his mother was the Virgin Mary.
I believe an angel told her to call her child Jesus.

I’m not waiting for these things to happen someday—
I’m trying to live their reality now.
This is what it means to live by faith.

I don’t believe in advancing the technology to kill.
I don’t believe in drone strikes or enhanced interrogation.
I don’t believe the propaganda that peace comes by preparing for war.

I believe in the baby born in Bethlehem.
I believe in the Prince of Peace.
I believe in armies that sing.

Does this shock you?
Can you see its awe?
This is Christmas shock and awe!

Merry Christmas!


Here’s my favorite Christmas carol…

(The artwork is Seeing Shepherds by Daniel Bonnell.)