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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 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. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 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.
What is going on? Is this Mary, Baby Jesus and Herod of the Nativity story? Is this Mother Israel, the Messiah, and the Enemy (Enemies) of God? Is John reminding the ‘Walkers of the Way’ that, despite the persecution they are facing, Christ rules the nations?
This woman is one tough mother. As she endures painful contractions and works with the rhythms of her body, a red dragon appears from heaven, knocking stars out of the sky, threatening to eat the very baby she is giving birth to. This woman is vulnerable, but she is not weak. This pregnant woman stares down a dragon and delivers her baby safely.
God protects the baby and the woman.
These six verses retell the birth, life/death and ascension of the Messiah. This vision speaks of God’s purposes succeeding despite seemingly impossible odds. And when I think of this woman, I think of people who face impossible odds every day.
An LGBT+ person holding on to their faith and sense of identity despite being constantly bombarded with homophobic and transphobic microaggressions.
Refugees who cannot swim holding onto each other in a small boat as they try to cross the ocean to a safer place.
A grandparent praying for their grandchild who is addicted to drugs.
Like the woman – each of these situations involve strong and determined people facing overwhelming odds.
If this vision is about Christ being born into the world despite Satan’s best attempts to prevent it, I wonder then, where is Christ being born today? What forces out there are trying to stop that birth of Christ in the world? And if the woman is Israel (aka ‘the people of God’) – well, Church (aka ‘those grafted in’), how pregnant are you feeling right now? How determined are you to see Christ born?
God, give us the strength and determination to see Christ born afresh in our lives, our families, and our communities. Help us to focus on Your holy breath and the rhythm of Christ’s body at work in the wider world. Amen.
The Reverend Angela Rigby, Minister at Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks