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Two Great Signs and Their Interpretation (12:1-17)

The mystery of Christmas is unfolded in various ways in the New Testament. In one account it is the story of poor visitors in Bethlehem who give birth to a child "destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed," with a warning to the mother that "a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Lk 2:34-35). In another account the infant Jesus is threatened by Herod the Great and taken to Egypt by his parents when Herod "gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under" (Mt 2:16).

The third story, less well known, is a kind of transformation of the second. A pregnant woman is threatened by a great dragon that intends to "devour her child the moment it was born." But when she gives birth, the male child is "snatched up to God and to his throne," while the woman flees to the desert to "a place prepared for her by God" (Rev 12:4-6). Wherever we look, the mystery of Christmas is linked to danger and to the ancient conflict between good and evil. This particular expression of the conflict has the look of certain myths that were current in several cultures in John's time and before (see Yarbro Collins 1976). For our purposes, however, the point at issue is not the origin of the imagery, but the uses to which the imagery is put in John's vision and in the testimony he bears to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

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