Three Signs for Christmas

The Sign of the Virgin

A sign is a visible mark or an object intended to convey a message by pointing to something {or somebody} else. A road sign may indicate, for example, a steep hill or a series of sharp bends but is not itself the incline or the curvature of the road. The sign itself is not the focus; the sign always points somewhere else.

The virgin birth of Jesus Christ to Mary is a sign of a supernatural conception. Within the natural constraints of this universe which God has created, it is impossible for a woman to conceive without the involvement of a man. However, what is impossible for man is possible for God!

The mother of Jesus Christ had not known any man intimately when she gave birth to her firstborn son. This virgin conception pointed back to a sign given to king Ahaz by the prophet Isaiah about 700 years before:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” {Isaiah 7:14}

This prophesied child was a sign that the enemies of God’s people, would be defeated. This child’s birth was also a sign that God would come both to judge and to deliver. His name “Immanuel”, meaning “God is with us”, looked forward to the conception of Christ in the womb of the virgin Mary who was “found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” before Joseph, or any other man united with her.

Mary, the virgin mother, is part of the sign, but she is not the focus. She was greeted by the angel Gabriel as “favoured one” {Luke 1:28}, a person who had found favor with God. However, she was also a sinner in need of salvation (just like you and me). She was not a ‘perpetual virgin’, but later gave birth to Jesus’ brothers who were born to Joseph and Mary in the normal way.

The Sign of the Virgin points to the male child of the virgin, One called Immanuel. This name “Immanuel” indicates that God Himself, in the person of the Son of God, became flesh and blood within a virgin’s body. Sin had separated man from the presence of God, but this child would be the very presence of God amongst mankind. It is because Christ Jesus was conceived without a man’s involvement, that he did not inherit the sinful nature of Adam. He is fully man whilst remaining fully God.

The sign of the virgin points to Christ.

The Sign of the Star

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On the 4th Day, He created celestial bodies including all the stars: Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” {Genesis 1:14}.

As the earth rotates on a tilted axis and orbits the closest star at the center of our solar system, the Sun, the stars in the heavens function as signs whose relative position indicate the changing seasons. About 3,000 stars are visible with naked eye. These celestial objects were used by ancient civilisations for navigation. For example the Bear {Arcturus}, Pleiades and Orion are mentioned in Job 38.

Today, with the aid of powerful telescopes we now know that our own galaxy alone contains at least 100 billion stars. This mind-boggling number indicates something of the vastness and immensity of the universe which God has created. From early times, fascination with stellar objects led both to astronomy; the scientific study of the relative positions and motions of heavenly bodies, but also to astrology; the mystical divination of future events based on the idea that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and human affairs.

In the Ancient Near East there was a society of men who were experts both in the natural science of astronomy and also in interpreting dreams and other magic arts, including astrology. They were called ‘Magi’. Some of these Magi saw a star which they understood to indicate the newborn King of the Jews. As they travelled westwards towards Israel the star moved and then stood still over Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus was lying in a manger. They understood the “Star of Bethlehem” to be an astronomical sign of a very important event.

In times past, God had used a great light to show His power and presence. When He delivered His people from Egypt, at night He went before them in a pillar of fire. Now the sign of the Star of Bethlehem led some Gentiles (non-Jews) to where Immanuel, the Great King, had been born.

The sign of the Star is that Christ would draw people from all nations to Himself. The astronomical sign of the star is the sign prophesied by Balaam in Numbers 24:17:“A star shall come forth from Jacob”.

Many people have tried to explain the celestial mechanics of this great light. Suggestions which have been proposed include: a supernova, a major comet {one was observed by the Chinese for over 70 days in 5BC}, a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn {these planets were very close to each other on three separate occasions in 7BC}. However, a supernova would not naturally move as the Star of Bethlehem had done. A large comet would have a tail and would not remain in geo-stationary orbit over a particular place on the earth’s surface (Bethlehem). The conjunction {close proximity} of two planets {Jupiter&Saturn} is a few years too early to coincide with the birth of Jesus Christ.

How then did the Star of Bethlehem shine and move? This is a good question to ask when we meet the Creator of all things at the end of this age!

What is clear is that the Sign of the Star is a sign of the power of God, who controls all the celestial objects. The Sign of the Star is a sign of the great importance of Christ’s birth, both for Jews and Gentiles. The Sign of the Star is good news. The Magi knew it to be so: When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” {Matthew 2:10}. The Star was a sign of the birth of Christ, who is Himself: ‘the bright and morning star’ {Rev 22:16}.

The Sign of the Escape

King Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship Jesus, the King of the Jews. Although Herod the Great was not a true Jewish King in the royal line of David, he was highly suspicious of anyone who might be. This Herod was a puppet appointee, who impressed the Roman Senate so much that they had given him the title “king of the Jews”.

So Herod was troubled when he heard from the Magi that the King of the Jews had been born. However, this wicked king did not see the star as being a sign of good news, but rather as a threat to His own power and position. He didn’t want to go and worship Christ, He wanted to kill Him ASAP.

However, an angel of the Lord gave Joseph a sign by speaking in a dream. “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him” {Matt 2:13}. Egypt had long been associated with the Jewish people. This country had been the place of refuge for the patriarch Jacob’s family of 70 when there was famine in the promised land of Israel. Then, 430 years later, Moses led God’s chosen people out of what had then become captivity to freedom in the promised land.

Around the start of the first century AD, Joseph, his wife Mary, and her firstborn son Jesus left Bethlehem. It was the same night of the dream warning and the family of three fled for safety to Egypt. Meanwhile the murderous intent of Herod was made horribly clear as he slaughtered all the Bethlehem region boys two years old or younger. The Sign of the Escape is the sign that the enemies of God wanted to kill Jesus as soon as they knew he was born.

However, they could not kill the baby Jesus because the Sign of the Escape is also that God the Father preserved and protected the life of His only begotten Son, so that He would live and fulfil His work. Jesus would live and return from Egypt, mirroring the Exodus deliverance recalled by the prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt I called My Son” {Hosea 11:1}.

The Sign of the Escape is the sign of God’s protection and preservation of baby Jesus so that He could grow to become an adult man and die at the appointed time. The Sign of the Escape is the sign that nobody could take the life of Christ; unless He first gave up His own life. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” {John 10:18}.

The Signs of the Virgin and the Star point us to the incarnation, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God took on of human flesh, whilst remaining fully God. Whereas the Sign of the Escape points us forward to both to His life, and then His death. We look forward from Christmas to Black Friday, but then onwards to Resurrection Sunday when Jesus escaped death, being raised to life, never to die again.

The Signs of the Virgin, the Star and the Escape all point us to Christ Jesus, the Living Lord and Saviour of all who turn to Him in repentance and faith.

These signs point you to your need of a Saviour, to your need of life eternal. Have you followed these signs this Christmas?