When You Watch the Eclipse, Think of How God Came to Earth

By Jay Richards Published on August 18, 2017

It just occurred to me — last week — that solar eclipses are a symbol of the Incarnation.

Let me explain.

They Shall be as Signs

Heavenly objects don’t influence our fates as astrologers believe. But Genesis 1 tells us that they can be “signs” to us of what God is doing. And in Scripture they often do just that. Think of the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings.

The Lady and the Dragon

Since the first century, Christians have associated Mary with the Moon. It started in the book of Revelation. In that last book of the Bible, God gives John a great vision, probably while the Apostle gazed up at the night sky on the Island of Patmos.

In Chapter 12, John says:

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

And 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 with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. … And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child … (Revelation 12: 1-5)

The text goes on like this, moving between time and eternity, piling symbols upon symbols. Rarely do they refer to just one thing. But it’s not a stretch see this text as (at least in part) a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Moon at Her Feet

That’s why so many famous images of Mary show her standing on the Moon. In the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, Mary wears a starry robe, surrounded by sunlight, and stands on top of a crescent moon.

Others, such as the statue in the Strasbourg Cathedral, show Mary with a ring of stars around her head, the sphere of the Moon at her feet, and a serpent crushed under her foot. This is inspired not only by Revelation 12, but by Genesis 3:15. There, God predicts that the head of the serpent (Satan) will be crushed by the seed of a woman. Mary is that woman. Jesus is that seed.

Virgin Mary in Strasbourg Cathedral

Virgin Mary in Strasbourg Cathedral

Images of Mary with baby Jesus abound in Christian art. But most images inspired by Revelation 12 do not show Jesus. That’s because they’re images of Mary when she’s pregnant.

Pointing and Hiding

When Mary first enters the biblical story, she’s just a young virgin from backwater Nazareth. Yet the angel Gabriel comes to her. He announces that she has found favor with God, and that she will conceive in her womb a child, who shall be named Jesus. Jesus will be the very Son of God. (Luke 1: 26-38)

During Jesus’ ministry, Mary never draws attention to herself. She points others to her Son. When she comes on stage early in John’s gospel, she’s telling servants at the wedding feast in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” And when her Son dies on Calvary, she is mourning at the foot of His Cross.

The Annunciation, Fra Angelico

The Annunciation, Fra Angelico

When she’s pregnant, though, Jesus is hidden within her body. No one can see Him. Think of it. The God of the universe, was, for a moment, small, hidden from view, inside the womb of one blessed young woman.

Something Inside That’s Bigger Than the Whole World

C.S. Lewis alludes to this mystery in the final novel of his Narnia series, The Last Battle. In the climax, the good guys, including Tirian King of Narnia, Queen Lucy, and Lord Digory, are besieged by their enemies. They’re forced into a small stable, where they expect to encounter the demonic Tash. Instead, they see another world.

Tirian looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him laughing.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Not just a stable. A woman, too, had inside her body the Creator of the whole world.

The Moon Hides the Sun

Now think of a total solar eclipse. A celestial body hides a bright star that is 400 times larger than it is. That body emits no light of its own, though it reflects well the light of the Sun.

One humble woman enclosed and for a moment hid God Himself.

It’s like the first moments of the incarnation. One humble woman hid God Himself. God chose to come to us, not first as a grown man, but through conception in the womb of a woman, where He developed, as we all do, inside His mother’s body.

Of course, even then, He did not disappear. And during an eclipse, the Sun still shines brightly. If you are in the Moon’s central shadow, though, you cannot see the Sun.

And so, on August 21, when you watch the Moon cover, for just a moment, the bright photosphere of the Sun, remember this. God came to us, hidden for a moment, in and through one young woman who, when asked by God to play a part in the cosmic drama of salvation, said simply: “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

Solar Eclipse Cloud Sunset Birds Banner - 900


Jay Richards is the Executive Editor of The Stream and co-author of The Privileged Planet. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Thanks, Jay!

  • Laura Ann Register

    Wow, I have never really thought of it that way, actually I have never thought about it that way, but when looking at the eclipse on the 21st, I will be looking at it in a whole new LIGHT. I’m going to have to reread Revelation 12 and much more of Revelations, we truly are living in the Last of the Last Days. Thank you Jay, you have given me something very important and beautiful to meditate on today. God Bless You and Your Family.

  • john appleseed

    How disappointing, Jay! I was a big fan of yours ever since “The Privileged Planet.”
    Obviously the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” is ISRAEL, not Mary.
    Don’t you remember Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:9-11)?
    In the dream, the sun represented Jacob, the moon represented Joseph’s mother Rachel, and the stars were the sons of Israel which bowed down to Joseph. In this sign with 12 stars, Joseph is now with the other tribes of Israel.
    In several other Old Testament passages, Israel (or Zion or Jerusalem) is represented as a woman (Isaiah 54:1-6, Jeremiah 3:20, Ezekiel 16:8-14, and Hosea 2:19-20).
    Israel gave birth to the “male Child,” their Messiah, Jesus.

    • john appleseed

      I agree with you that the sun is a celestial illustration given by God of the Lord Jesus.
      I believe the moon is an illustration of the Church.
      The world can’t see Jesus in its dark night of sin.
      But it can see the Church.
      The Church, Jesus said, is now the light of the world (Jesus had earlier said that he was the Light of the world).
      The Church has no light of its own, but we reflect Jesus’ light.

      • Paul

        I don’t quite see that in Matthew 5:

        14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

        • john appleseed

          We would have no light without Jesus giving it to us.

          • Paul

            Very true, but He is in us.

    • Jay W. Richards

      The text need not (and indeed does not) refer to a single thing. It (and I think does) refer to Israel, the Church, and Mary. I have two seminary degrees, so I’m not an exegetical simpleton. I’m not saying anything about the text that was not understood by Church fathers and theologians throughout Church history. Revelation is layered with symbols.

      • john appleseed

        Of course I do not think you’re a simpleton, Sir.
        I disagree with you one one matter.
        I told you I was a big fan.

        Mary, a sinner saved by grace (just like every Christian), did not in any sense have anything like a moon under her feet.
        She had no “crown” when she gave birth to Jesus.
        Such grand images would not be referring to a mortal.
        I don’t see how it could refer to anything other than Israel.

        Misunderstandings of this passage lead millions to worship Mary as some sort of “Queen of Heaven.”

        • Jennifer Hartline

          Or, correct understandings such as Jay’s, and the Church Fathers down through the centuries, have led millions of faithful to understand that Christ and God the Father have crowned Mary as Queen of Heaven, because she is, after all, the Queen Mother by virtue of Christ’s Kingship. She is, after all, the Mother of God. She is, after all, the one through whom salvation entered the world.

          • Chip Crawford

            The Word of God lives and abides forever. Fables, religious traditions and tales are temporary and kin to a foundation of sinking sand. The NT warns against holding to the traditions of men, thereby making the word of God of no effect. (for you; one cannot nullify God’s word in general) Salvation did not enter the world through Mary.

            Acts 4:10 10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
            12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

          • Az1seeit

            Wait. God had a mother? How can the eternal being who was, is and is to come have a mother?

        • stumpc

          Sad. I wonder how it will go when you explain to the Lord someday how his mother was an insignificant simplton duped into incubating him for 9 months.

          • Az1seeit

            Wait. Did he say that? Where?

        • PilgrimGirl

          Catholics do call Mary ‘Queen of Heaven’. What does the LORD say?

          “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger. Do they provoke me to anger? saith the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?” (Jeremiah 7:18, 19)

          Idolatry then and idolatry now; there is nothing new under the sun.

          “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8)

      • Chip Crawford

        The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of scripture, which is best interpreted with other scripture, not seminary degrees, Church fathers and theologians. He was not mentioned by you at all. It’s a God thing all around, not a man thing, regardless of how one may credential oneself.

  • faithmcdonnell

    That was beautiful, Jay! Thank you for the encouraging words and appreciation of the powerful symbolism in the solar eclipse. Needed something positive in the middle of this hell our nation is going through.

  • Tom Rath

    You do realize there are ,on average, two solar eclipses a year…and there *can* be as many as five. Of course, they mostly impact areas of ocean.

    • Jay W. Richards

      Yes, I wrote a book on the subject.

  • How absolutely beautiful! I loved this, and now I will be thinking of our Blessed Mother and her containing Jesus on Monday. Thank you.

    • john appleseed

      When someone told Jesus his mother was “blessed,” Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
      (see Luke 11:26-28)

      • And she didn’t hear the word and obey? Think it over.

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    A lyric to a tune I penned on the subject of God’s wisdom in creation – “The sunrise in the east – The sunset in the west – Would you have it any other way – For thats the way that it works best – God knew what He was doing – When He placed the stars in space – A picture of His glory – An expression of His grace ..” That memorable & iconic media ad from the 60’s & 70’s comes to mind in my take on Mr Richards article – “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s rye bread “. Being a believer of Jewish heritage I don’t have to be Catholic to grasp the imagery suggested. Romans 1:20 lends credence to that consideration . So, while I don’t have a personal revelation as to the significance of Revelation 12:1-5 , I don’t have an issue w/this understanding of it either . So thanks to both C.S. Lewis & Jay Richards for this illuminating metaphor ……

  • Becky

    Beautifully written. Insightful perspective. I too will look at it on Monday with a new layer of appreciation.

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