Martin Luther King and the dragon.
It is a dangerous thing to write while under the influence of Revelation 12—15. It may be a dangerous thing for me to do much of anything under the influence of Revelation 12—15, as it is an intoxicating portion of Scripture. I went to bed under its spell and got up still there. Since I’m preaching from Revelation 12 this weekend, I will restrain myself as best I can and save the preaching for the pulpit.
But the great messianic war, where the dragon who is Satan makes war against the male child who is Jesus, makes sense of most every other great story we know in and outside of Scripture, not the least of all the story of Martin Luther King. Here is this child born into danger, a baby born practically into the jaws of the dragon waiting to wage war against him. Here is this scandalous vulnerability of God, putting Himself into the path of the ancient primeval serpent as an infant in swaddling clothes. Here is the dark side of Christmas—that so much hope could be wrapped up in something, in someone, so fragile, so vulnerable.
And yet in this horrifying imagery comes every reason that we have not to be afraid, every reason that King himself was not afraid to face death—it is also the story of how the Child has already defeated the dragon, even though he continues to fight against His followers. In the film The Witness, Billy Kyles describes the mental state of King preaching his epic mountaintop sermon the night before he was shot. In words I’ll never forget, he said “That night, he preached himself through the fear of death.”
If all of this seems lofty and abstract…well, it’s really not. This morning I find myself meditating on a very simple fact. In the world that I live in, there still seems to be so much to be afraid of. Every time I face something difficult, every time I anticipate a conflict or a heartache or a hard situation, I am tempted to be afraid—afraid of the unknown, afraid of the unspeakable, afraid of what’s going to happen or what’s going to change. And yet the message both of Revelation and the message of King’s life itself is that there is no reason for fear, there is no worst case scenario. Even in death, the child will not be defeated—perhaps especially in death. The dragon howls and kicks in protest against the love born of God into darkness, but ultimately has no power.
So this morning I’m preaching myself through any and all fears. There is nothing, there is no one, to be afraid of. I’m also letting God remind me that just because the call to lead feels heavy or lonely at times, just because at times I must do things I would choose to avoid, doesn’t mean I am not in the center of His will. Interesting how I can be inspired by a person like King who “loved not his own life even unto death” in such a dramatic way, and yet still insist on avoiding nearly every kind of minor discomfort imaginable. It’s as if hardship in ministry and leadership is not to be expected.
I am not so stupid as to enjoy suffering on any level—the call to bear faithful witness is not a call to masochism. But I will tell you this: you face difficult things differently when you’ve already stared down the dragon, and have already seen the defeat in his eyes.