The Reality of the Unseen
Text: Luke 10:17-20, Rev. 12:7-12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You may have heard about this last year in the news, when there was a woman visiting Yellowstone National Park who had a bison charge her, pick her up with its horns, and then throw her 10 feet into the air. Although she was injured, as I’m sure no one is surprised, she survived. It did prompt park officials to issue a press release saying that of all the animals at Yellowstone, humans are attacked the most by bison. Why? Because people get too close. They know to turn tail and get away from a bear or a wolf, but when it comes to the fluffy bison, they simply aren’t aware of the danger.
It’s easy to see how that happens. We, especially here in the suburbs, live safely and comfortably. We walk the sidewalks without fear of being gored or tossed into the air by wild animals. In fact, whenever we see a wild animal, like a fox or racoon, it’s a moment of excitement, knowing full well they won’t send us the hospital as we see them from a distance or on the other side of a window. It’s not as if we’re in any real danger of starving to death with our grocery stores at hand or of dying of exposure to the elements, even though those are things can and do happen to others.
So it should be no surprise that it’s quite possible for us to become numb or unaware of real dangers when they’re present, whether it’s in a national park or other places where it may sidle alongside us. This happens in our spiritual lives too. We hear or see something that’s corrosive to our faith and we shrug it off. We get closer and closer to the wild bison of temptation, oblivious to the danger that it holds, until we’re tragically injured by it. But as we’re inching closer, we think, “It can’t really hurt me.” Like tourists in the untamed wilderness, we think it’s still relatively safe, that nothing bad could happen. That stuff is just for movies and campfire stories.
That is, until we reach the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Suddenly our eyes are open to the unseen realities of the very real and present spiritual war that’s raging around us, the spiritual battle fought by between God’s angels and the old evil foe and his angels. The prophet Daniel and the Apostle St. John were given eyes to see this war and instructions to write about it so that we, God’s people, would be made aware. “At that time,” Daniel writes, “shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” And John records, “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And 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 earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven… “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short!” The danger is very real, even if we can’t see it with our eyes. The devil and his weaponry may be subtle, but they are dangerous. Temptation, doubt, fear, distrust of God, lovelessness for our neighbor—these are his tools, and they cut us deep.
So what do we do? When people recognize the reality of this spiritual war of good and evil, there have been a number of reactions. Many reactions are bad. Some have become paranoid, seeing demons under every rock and hiding in every neighbor, seeking to drive them out of by their own strength, willpower, or purity. These solo attacks of humans against the dragon are doomed to failure. Others despair, thinking at first that the weapons he has are too strong to resist: temptation, doubt, those things that seem right to a fallen nature. Then, after thinking those things too strong, they begin to think of them not as weapons at all. Others, at various times and places, have tried to harness the power of this warfare through things like magic, or as the Catechism calls it, satanic arts, trying to command demons or angels to do their bidding, as if we could tame and control such beings. Many, many people have entered into useless speculation about these spiritual soldiers, going far beyond what Scripture has told us about angels and demons, inventing all sorts of things about them, either to write scripts for TV shows, or to fill in the gaps about those things we can’t see. If you hear anyone speaking about angels or demons, no matter where it is, compare it to what Scripture says—and only what Scripture says—and you’ll find out if it’s true or just manmade stories.
So what do we do with a day like today, when we get to look behind the veil, glimpsing the unseen spiritual forces around us? The answer is simpler than you think. This feast day, this glimpse, has the same purpose as all the feast days in the Church year. It’s to teach us about Christ and what He is doing for us.
What is it that Christ is doing for us? He’s commanding His angels to watch over us so that we aren’t helpless prey for evil. He’s directing the events of history, as He revealed in the book of Daniel, for the good of His people. He spoke to the prophet: “Fear not Daniel…The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen in the latter days.” Christ is teaching us that everything is under His rule, because He has conquered by His cross and resurrection, so that now even the forces of hell are powerless against Him. Listen closely to Him again from our Gospel reading: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” And again from Revelation, “But [the dragon] was defeated”—past tense, it’s already done, the devil is already defeated—“and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down…And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…”
Your enemy—your only true enemy, the devil, your accuser—has already been defeated. When Jesus’ kingdom came to this world, through the sending of the 72 to preach forgiveness, as we heard in the Gospel reading; through the cross of Jesus that forgave all the sins that the accuser would try to condemn you with; through the forgiveness proclaimed in this service today, given and shed for you in the Sacrament you’re about to receive—that’s when the devil lost the battle, lost the war. The coming of Jesus’ kingdom, His forgiveness, His grace, is what defeats the old, evil foe. Jesus shares His victory with you when He writes your name in heaven as His citizen, His believer, His beloved.
And in those times of temptation, of fear, He sends reinforcements. He commands the angelic heavenly guard to come and defend you from all that you can’t see. He sends preachers to declare you forgiven so that the enemy’s weapons of accusation and despair are broken and useless. He sends His angels to join the church in our song as we sing that ancient hymn of His throne room, first seen and heard by Isaiah, mighty seer, “Holy, holy, holy; heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
Christ has triumphed. Hell has already lost the war. This is the mop-up campaign. Yes, the danger is real. But so is our Savior. So is His forgiveness and salvation, which takes away the devil’s only real weapon. So today we celebrate Jesus’ victory, which He shares with Michael and all the angels, which He shares with us. We rejoice that the victory has already been recorded in the book of life, and that we are listed as the victors with Him. In the name of Jesus, the Lord of Sabaoth. Amen.