This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Woman and the Dragon
12 A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule[a] all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Michael Defeats the Dragon
7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 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 the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’[a]
Who is the woman clothed with the sun? Catholic piety has identified her with Mary mother of Jesus, and certainly Mary’s motherhood is included in this vision. But the best key to her identity is Paul words in Romans Chapter 8, “Up till now the whole created universe groans as in the pains of childbirth…” The woman clothed with the sun is the created universe itself, whose evident suffering is here interpreted as the labour pains of the Messiah’s birth. This splendidly vivid image gives an optimistic interpretation of the pain inherent in existence: it is giving birth to new heavens and a new earth.
The power of evil symbolised by the red dragon lies in wait for the holy child. This part of the vision may be a very abbreviated version of the life of Jesus; menaced by evil (crucified) he is snatched away to God (resurrected). The victory of Michael in the heavenly war is linked later in this chapter with the suffering of the Lamb and his servants. The work of God’s Messiah is depicted in both the effortless power of Michael and the sacrificial suffering of the Lamb.
The woman clothed with the sun has been seen as a contrast to the “Great Whore” of Revelation chapter 17, who is a symbol of the Roman Empire and its seductive affluence. The labouring woman is creation responding to God’s goodness, ( Revelation also calls Jesus, the “first born of creation.”). Attacked by the power of evil and yet sustained by God, she is also an image of God’s people. This feminine image at the heart of a book loaded with masculine images of monarchy, lordship and battle, reminds the reader of the breadth and subtlety of the this author’s vision. The created universe, led by God’s people in partnership with God, gives birth to the Messiah and the New World.
The Gospel of John is the only other New Testament book which uses the image of the Lamb. Although the language of the gospel seems miles away from the swirling images of Revelation, they are saying the same thing: in Jesus, the Lamb of God, God is confronting the evil of the world with his love, so that those who trust in him can defeat death and live eternally.The judgement so vividly depicted in Revelation is only a more dramatic version of the the one mentioned in John, “that the light has come onto the world and men preferred the darkness.” The consequences of choosing darkness are more vividly portrayed in Revelation, as are the consequences of trusting the light, but it is the one process of God’s love for his cosmos.