|Woodcut from Luther Bibel 1534, Revelation 12|
The Woman Gives Birth to a Male Child
Revelation 12:1-17 gives a different perspective to the birth of Jesus. A sign appears in the heavens of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. This "sign" is none other than the Virgin Mary, who is a type of the Church. By Revelation 12:17, if not sooner, the woman seems to be most appropriately understood as the Church. In verse 2, she is pregnant and "crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth." (In my mind, this seems to call into question the tradition that Mary gave birth to Jesus "painlessly." Indeed, the Christ child was sinless, but Mary had the original sin within her. In Genesis, the pain of childbirth was a curse upon women for their sin, not the sin of the infant. But I digress and potentially start a debate that cannot be won...)
Next in the text, a red dragon appears with seven heads and ten horns. Satan always tries to mimic and imitate the Lord God. The birth of Jesus cast Satan down from heaven (or was it the beginning of his public ministry? Luke 10:18). Luke 10:18 is not a contradiction, for at his birth Jesus saw Satan fall and Satan's kingdom crumble. With the casting out of Satan, a third of the stars, or angels rather demons went with him. The significance of the casting out of Satan is explained in Revelation 12:10, "the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down." In the birth of Jesus, Satan can no longer accuse us before the Lord God. Because Jesus bore our sin, all accusations are directed to him, which was answered for on the cross.
Note that the dragon sits before the woman, waiting to devour her child. In the Gospel accounts, we hear how King Herod sought to destroy Jesus and when Jesus escaped into the wilderness in his wrath he slaughtered the holy innocents. Because Satan's power was destroyed through the infant Christ and the instrumentality of the Virgin Mary, a woman, Satan's anger rages against women and children, hence the reason we see such heinous crimes committed against them.
The key message of Christmas from this text is Revelation 12:5, "She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to the God and to his throne." Jesus is born, the Savior of the world. John sees the birth of Jesus and his ascension as one event in this vision so that Christ is born and at the right hand of God. Satan is defeated but rages for a time because his time is short.
This is where Christmas and Advent meet. Advent prepares us for the return of Christ in his glory. With the birth of Christ, the last days were ushered in. Satan is defeated. The Christ child continues to protect his church against the gates of hell. Through the waters of baptism, the church gives birth to Christians, "who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Revelation 12:17)
Merry Christmas! "She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron ... Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come." (Revelation 12:5 & 10)
A facsimile of Luther's 1534 Bible.