T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, a creature was stirring… but it wasn’t a mouse. It was Lucifer. It’s surprising so few Christians recognize him in the Christmas story – especially since the thrust of his work has never changed.
Christmas Eve has become an evening for saccharin church services. Before modern times, demonic activity was widely recognized as more intense on this day. Christian traditions recognized Satan in the story. It was only in recent times that dark tales became brightened, diluting the demonic elements.1 The night before Christmas became serene – duping some believers into assuming no creatures are stirring.
Revelation 12 begs to differ. In its account of Christmas, a woman is about to give birth. A dragon crouches before her, ready to snatch her newborn. In Isaiah 14 we read how the dragon got there. He’s Lucifer, a luminous being from eternity past. For unknown reasons he launched an insurrection, using language: “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly; I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (14:12-14). These are words lacking a meaningful connection to reality. This will become the thrust of Lucifer’s work – breaking the meaningful connection between words and reality.
Get ready. You’re going to hear that phrase a few more times as the thrust of Lucifer’s work sounds like a skipping record. His meaningless words prove bewitching, moving one-third of the angelic realm to rebel against God. They lose and are cast to earth. This explains why earth is first described as “formless and void” – a phrase with ominous overtones of God’s judgment.2 Lucifer and his legions are lurking in the bushes.
Let’s be clear. Words are not inherently evil. God forms the “formless and void” with words. Good words enjoy a meaningful connection to reality. God tells us to further his work by means of words. Adam names the animals. This is what the writer of Proverbs means when he writes, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Prov. 25:11). Satan however sees meaningful words as a menace. He bewitches Eve with words that have no meaningful connection to reality (Surely God has not said…?). Adam and Eve fall. God promises a solution, setting the stage for Christmas.
The thrust of Lucifer’s work follows a pattern from eternity past – breaking the meaningful connection between words and reality. Few Christians see his subterfuge. It’s in the Christmas story. Hearing about a newborn king, King Herod tells the magi he wants to worship the baby (Mt. 2). His words have no meaningful connection to reality. Herod is driving under the influence of Lucifer. Bewitched, the magi promise to report back. God warns the magi to flee. Joseph and Mary are warned. Enraged, Herod slaughters every Palestinian baby two years or younger – which is how the story ends in Revelation. There, the foiled serpent declares war on every follower of the newborn.
It’s one thing to know our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5:8). It’s quite another to recognize how Lucifer devours. It’s plain as day in scripture – Satan breaks the meaningful connection between words and reality. Is this still happening? While not a Christian, Ludwig Wittgenstein saw a ‘disconnect’ between words and reality in the Western world. The culprit was the Enlightenment, favoring rich rhetoric with its tendency to reduce the complexity of reality to a deceptive clarity (e.g., “principles” and “concepts”). Wittgenstein saw philosophy – the love of wisdom – as a corrective. “Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language.”3
Philosophy is helpful but neuroscience might be more so. It is only in the human brain’s right hemisphere that we come in contact with reality. We then form words in the left to explain our experiences. If however we start in the left, with words, language can lose any meaningful connection to reality. The Enlightenment starts with words. Examples of a ‘disconnect’ abound, as with the word “values.”
Friedrich Nietzsche said if there is no God, there are no virtues – only “values.”4 Values are inherently good. Nietzsche was talking about values as understood by the Western world. Modern values lack any meaningful connection to how Westerners live. Numerous studies reinforce this. One study indicates business professionals “usually don’t act on their values” at work.5 Another indicates values-talk yields business managers who suffer from “moral muteness.”6 It appears the great philosophy of the West, the Enlightenment, reduces “values” to meaningless dribble.
“If my name survives at all,” wrote Wittgenstein, “then only as the terminus ad quem of the great philosophy of the West.”7 The Enlightenment is that philosophy. With its emphasis on words, the evidence indicates many Western faith traditions are bewitched by the Enlightenment’s eloquence. Research indicates phrases like “passionate believers” and “corporate values” have little bearing on the faith community’s behavior. Prior to the Enlightenment, it was assumed people think first in pictures, or metaphors. It was assumed a picture’s worth a thousand words. Older Christian traditions saw wisdom in the admonition: “Let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). They took seriously Jesus’ warning that we shall be judged by “every careless word” we speak (Mt. 12:36-37).
If Jesus is right, Christmas can serve as a wake-up call. Lucifer is always stirring up trouble. When faith communities see the thrust of his work, they’ll recognize an eerie similarity between their work and the Enlightenment. They’ll begin to communicate in pictures. Some might even determine to be the terminus ad quem of the Enlightenment.
1 Scott Meslow, Fairy Tales Started Dark, Got Cute, and Are Now Getting Dark Again (The Atlantic, May 2012).
2 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 106.
3 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 96.
4 Gertrude Himmelfarb, “From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values” (Law and Order, May/June 1995)
5 Judith Samuelson and Mary Gentile, “Get Aggressive About Passivity,” Harvard Business Review (November 2005), pp. 18-19
6 Frederick B. Bird and James A. Waters, “The Moral Muteness of Managers,” California Management Review, no. 1 (Fall 1989): 73-88.
7 Wittgenstein, Denkbewegungen: Tagebuher 1930-1932/1936-1937, ed. I. Somavilla, Haymon, Innsbruck, 1997, 2003.