First Reading: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab
The Woman In the Sky
11:19a God's temple in heaven was opened and the ark of God's covenant appeared in the Temple.
12:1 A great sign appeared in the sky. There was a woman who was clothed with the sun. The moon was at her feet. And she wore a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was ready to give birth. She cried out because of her intense birth pains.
3 Suddenly, there was another sign in the sky. There was a large red dragon with seven heads. Each head had ten horns and worn a crown with less power than the woman had. 4 The dragon's tail swept one third of the stars from the sky and threw them on the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who would soon give birth, so he could eat the child right after the delivery.
5 The woman bore a son who would soon rule every country with an iron rod. The child was taken away to God and his throne. 6 The woman escaped into the desert where God had prepared a place for her, so she could be fed for 1,260 days.
10 Then, I heard a loud voice from heaven: "Now, salvation, divine power, and God's Kingdom are here! They come with the authority of the Christ!"
11:19 The Temple of God was opened, the (one) in heaven, and the Ark of his Covenant was seen in his Temple, and there was lighting and sounds and thunder and earthquakes and large hail.
12:1 A great sign was seen in the sky, a woman having clothed herself in the sun and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, 2 and having (child) in (her) womb, she cried out, having birth pains and being tormented to give birth. 3 Another sign was seen in the sky; Look! a large, red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems on his heads, 4 and his tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them onto the earth. The dragon stood before the woman, the (one) being about ready to give birth, so that, when she might give birth, her child could be devoured. 5 She gave birth to a son who was about to shepherd every nation with an iron rod. The child was snatched away to God and his throne. 6 The woman fled into the desert, where she had there a place having been prepared by God, so that they might feed her one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
10 I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now (they) have come, the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ..."
11:19 "there was lighting and sounds and thunder and earthquakes and large hail" many of these items were signs of God's presence (Exodus 19:16; 1 Kings 19:11-12 expressed the opposite).
12:2-3 "sky" is literally "heaven." The context argues for a distinction between the dwelling place of God and the area above the earth. Otherwise, how could the cosmic struggle described in these verses occur in God's presence?
12:3 "ten horns" Each head had ten horns. This reflected Daniel 7:7, 20.
"seven diadems" A "diadem" was a head ornament that indicated a lesser authority than that of a crown. In other words, the dragon's intention to devour the heir to the woman's place (i.e., her "crown") was an act of cosmic rebellion.
12:4 "his tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven" The stars mentioned in this verse represented the lesser spiritual powers that the ancients believed existed between God and humanity.
12:5 "who was about to shepherd every nation with an iron rod" The iron rod indicated a strong, even ruthless rule that would dominate the political landscape. The verb "to shepherd" can also mean "to smash." See Psalm 2:9
12:6 "one thousand two hundred and sixty days" was equivalent to forty four months that Gentiles would trample the Temple in Jerusalem (11:2) and the two witnesses would prophesy (11:3). In other words, the new mother would rest during the troubled times of the Tribulation.
This reading begins with the opening of the heavenly Temple and the revelation of the Ark. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the immediate presence of God, for in it lie the Ten Commandments and other artifacts from the Exodus. Just as God was with his people in the journey, he dwelt in the symbol of that journey. In the Temple at Jerusalem, the Ark lie in the Holy of Holies, a room hidden from the view of the worshipers. Only the High Priest could go before the Ark, and only on the Day of Atonement. But in this scene, the Ark was revealed to all. The sights and sounds recorded (thunder, lightning, earthquakes, heavy hail) signified and heightened the theophany.
The opening of the Temple paralleled the next scene, vision of the pregnant Queen in heaven. The idea of the heavenly woman rang true in Greek and Hebrew contexts. The Greeks had the story of the Olympian queen Leto giving birth to Apollo, their sun god. Micah saw Jerusalem as a woman in the midst of birth pains (4:10). The birth moment of the Queen and the presence of her nemesis, the dragon, clearly recalled the temptation of Eve by the serpent and God's curse upon the serpent in Genesis 3: 15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." The dragon wished to be pro-active and consume the boy before the young one could defeat his opponent, as foretold in God's curse. This was not to be. The boy was rescued and secured in the heavenly court. The woman escaped into the safety of God's presence (represented by the oasis in the desert that God provided her).
Notice the Temple-Ark parallel with the Queen-Messiah. Just as the Temple was opened to reveal the Ark, the Queen gave birth to reveal the Messiah. The Temple/Queen contained the presence of God (Ark/Messiah); the opening/birth was the point of revelation.
The difference between the two events lie the presence of the Evil (the dragon) ready to do battle at this point of revelation. In fact, the dragon presented himself in an uprising of cosmic proportions. By sweeping the spiritual powers toward earth (toppling their power and exiling them to the level of humanity), the dragon was ready to usurp divine power itself. By consuming the boy, the dragon would claim the heavenly crown with all its rights. It would trade its many diadems (representing lesser power) for THE prize. But even at the point of revelation (and possible destruction), God would intervene. Just as the opening of the Temple had its sights and sounds of divine power, so would the rescue of the Messiah and his mother. The voice would declare the presence of God in his salvation, his power, his Kingdom, and in the authority of this Son.
On a symbolic level, the early Church identified itself with the heavenly Queen. It also identified the mother of Jesus as the heavenly Queen. After all, Mary was the first believer in the Good News. So, she was the first member of the Church. As the proto-member, she represents all who followed her, as disciples of her Son. If the Church saw itself in the cosmic struggle with the Evil One to make the Messiah present to the world, it could also see its first member in that role. It is no wonder that, by the time Constantine freed the Church from persecution, believers pictured Mary as the Queen of Revelation 12.
The picture of the cosmic struggle presents us with a challenge. Evil will try to prevent our efforts to show Christ to others, just as the author of Revelation painted. But this in not just a battle we fight alone. It is a universal battle. So, we need all the help we can muster. That is why the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary comforts us. She lived what we hope to live. She brought Christ into the world. With her prayers, we can do the same.
What is your devotion to Our Lady? How can such a devotion strengthen your Christian walk?