In 1890, the then thriving Anchor Buggy Company, the largest producer of buggies in the world, published the ad pictured here. What this ad has to do with horse drawn buggies, I have no idea, but nevertheless, it featured what has become a world-famous optical illusion. Who is this woman? Is she young and in her prime or old and in her twilight years? It depends on how you look at it. Of course, one should not miss the caption under the picture: "You see my wife, but where is my mother-in-law?"
Anchor's business was never the same after that. After all, you never mess with a mother-in-law!
In our reading for today from Revelation 12, we see a strange sight:
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (verses 1-5)
What is John talking about here? A heavenly woman? A male child? A fierce dragon? Perhaps we know this story better as it's told by Luke:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
The story of Revelation 12 is the story of Luke 2. It is the story of Jesus, told from a heavenly perspective. But from a heavenly perspective, it looks a little different. Rather than a quiet stable, we have a roaring dragon. Rather than a meager-looking infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, we have a conquering child wielding an iron scepter. Much like the Anchor Buggy Company's famed optical illusion, the story of Jesus has two sides: The side we see here on earth and the side seen by the angels in heaven. From an earthly perspective, it looks merely like a non-descript birth. From a heavenly perspective, however, it is revealed as a cosmic battle between God and Satan. It just depends on how you look at it.
Many times, the course of our lives can seem bewildering, confusing, and mystifying. Many times, we are left wondering where we are going, what we are doing, and how we will survive the heartaches and challenges of this world. It is during these times that we need to remember that our earthly perspective is not the only perspective there is. There is God's heavenly perspective as well. And God's heavenly perspective is this: That we have "overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony" (verse 11). From God's heavenly perspective, no matter what trial, tragedy, or trouble from Satan we may face, our victory is secure, for we have overcome the dragon by the blood of the Lamb. And so, when our earthly perspective leaves us feeling despondent and defeated, never forget that from God's heavenly perspective, the outcome of our trials is sure and certain: We have and we will overcome. And that's the way we should look at it.