The Signal of Christmas
I pulled up to a major intersection. It is one of those intersections where there is a designated lane and signal for every turn. In every direction, right turns, no turns, left turns. There were two lanes of incoming traffic to my left, three lanes to my right. In every direction, for every lane, there was a light. The cornucopia of red lights served to each driver in the intersection a unified message - “Sit here - wait your turn!”
On this particular occasion my desire was to turn left. I have no scientific proof, but it seems like at this intersection the lefties are stranded much longer behind the light than everyone else. When the left turn signal does finally come, the green light initiates a virtual drag race to the white stripe. You have only a few seconds to make your move or you are doomed to repeat the cycle again and wait twice as long for your turn.
There were four cars in front of me. Familiar with the situation I reached for my addiction of choice to pass the time, smartphone! Realizing I had missed several text messages I began thumbing away my replies. Digital conversations ensued. I would pass the time waiting with texting - attempting to effectively communicate emotion and information, two to three words at a time, instantaneously to friends also stuck in traffic three states away.
I am not sure exactly how long I was there, but something in my mind alerted me that my hiatus in the left turn lane was expiring; it was time to check the light. Raising my eyes from phone to road, I realized the scene had changed dramatically. Where there had once been two lanes of signal stranded motorists to my right waiting to pass through the light, now there were none - only empty lanes. Where there had once been four cars in front of me, I now saw only the distant taillights of car number four engaged in a left turn. Almost as if to mock me, the signal rapidly changed from yellow to red as car number four passed beneath it. I was now doomed to repeat the cycle of signals once again.
It wasn’t that I had failed to pay attention. My failure was to pay attention to the right thing. I should have been watching the signal. Instead I was reading messages on my phone. Because I wasn’t watching the right thing, not only was I left embarrassingly alone in the intersection, I missed my chance to go.
Luke is writing to a companion described as, “most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3).” His purpose is to assure Theophilus that the things he has been taught are accurate (Luke 1:4). To do this, Luke begins with a series of signals. A series of angelic visits ensues. A childless, aging priest named Zechariah is given a sign. His wife Elizabeth will have a son who is to be named John. This child will prepare the way of an even more significant one.
The angel Gabriel visits a young virgin girl named Mary. Supernaturally she too will conceive a child; not a child by man, but this child will be the Son of God.
More signals, more signs, come in rapid succession. Like the array of red lights in a major intersection, the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel are full of signals. The children are born. Angels visit shepherds. The sighting of the Christ child inspires prophecies. Every sign a fulfillment of prophecy. Every sign a signal, like the changing colors of light at an intersection, each sign signaling a new, ordered, sequence of events is now on the move.
The message of Christmas is simple. Something is happening. God is moving. Are you paying attention?
When Zechariah received the news that his child was to be born, he immediately recognized the activity of God in the sign and he made a move.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old (Luke 1:68-70).”
Christmas is a signal. The Son of God has been born. The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. God is up to something. Make no mistake, a lane of history and prophecy is moving. Zechariah realized that Israel had been stuck in a dark intersection of their nation’s history for centuries. But now it was time to make a move. Zechariah was watching. The signal was happening. He was responding.
There is a real sense in which we have grown unfamiliar with Christmas. Unfamiliar with Christmas? How can this possibly be true? We are a few days past the inauguration of the season, Black Friday . . . or perhaps Black Thursday Evening as it seemed to be this year. We have digi-shopped cyber-Monday. On the horizon is a tight schedule of Christmas parties, plays, and gatherings. There are cards to write and family pics to be printed. And who can forget the shows? There is a certain regimen of Christmas movies that must be watched for Christmas to be Christmas.
I will be the first to admit, I enjoy all of these things in this annual season. But I will also be the first to admit, these are distractions to what is really happening. If being busy with holiday themed activities defines your Christmas, you are watching your smartphone in the intersection and you will soon be left alone in the dark. You are missing the signal.
Christ’s birth is the signal of a new season of salvation history. Christmas is the green light of Biblical prophecy that tells us that we are now in the season in which He comes. True, He was born. As important of a message as the birth of Christ is in Christmas, it is not the only one. The full message of the season is that He is coming again.
His birth identifies Jesus as the Messiah. His death, burial and resurrection is the inauguration of a season of time in which more dead things, situations, and people will live again. This is the season in which people are saved because Christ has come. This is the season in which God pours out His Spirit and gathers for Himself a people for the sake of His Son.
Zechariah recognized the signal. “God . . . has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us (Luke 1:68-69).”
Christmas is not merely a holiday, it is time to make a move. In this season of time God has signaled that it is time for repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. The commercial Christmas season is filled with pleasant distractions, but the Biblical message of Christmas is about paying attention to the right thing - we need to be forgiven for our sins (Luke 1:77).
Zechariah was waiting and watching. When the signal came, he saw it and made a move. Christmas inaugurates the season in which Jesus comes. Are you watching and waiting? Are you ready to make a move?