Signs of Christmas Past: The Overshadowing


Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14
Photo by Jens Johnsson on

Signs are an integral part of our daily life. They surround us everywhere we go; on the highways, in buildings, on buses, etc. Signs have been used for millennia helping people find their way, offering warnings and providing order to daily life. Modern society would be extraordinarily challenging without signage given our fast pace lives. Unfortunately in our human nature, we routinely ignore and dismiss signs to our own peril because of familiarity or simple presumptions.

God also provides signs to make us aware of forthcoming events on the divine calendar and to prepare our hearts for those realities. Signs foretelling the first Christmas were no different. God spoke through the prophets offering a glimpse of the Messiah’s first advent and bestowing signs that would accompany that long awaited day.

There are many signs and prophecies in the Old Testament that foretell the coming of Jesus Christ but none so marvelous as a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit to be born the Son of God in the flesh. The Gospel of Matthew reaffirms the prophecy from the book of Isaiah as a sign given to the people of Israel confirming the coming of Immanuel, literally translated “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).

The Overshadowing

Two of the central human figures on that prophetic stage were Mary and Joseph. Although both most likely knew the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, coming to terms with the personal impact upon their lives would have challenged their faith and even their human sensibilities. But God in His understanding of our frailties, spoke by way of an angel to reveal their role in this wondrous plan and also provide words of reassurance to these two very human people to help overcome their fears.

The Angelic Message to Mary:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.  Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest;  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.   Luke 1:26-35

We can only surmise the difficulty this presented for Mary in the culture of that day. Would anyone believe her especially Joseph and her family or would they see it as a wild story to cover her shame? The Scriptures do not speak of ridicule or rejection she may have experienced. But we do know of her trusting response to the message from God. Verse 38 records her words to the angel “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your words”. Upon a subsequent visit to her relative, Elizabeth, Mary proclaims what is known as the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) giving praise to the Lord for His abundant grace and blessings in her life. Mary’s faith in the Lord’s love and sovereignty paints a beautiful portrait of hope when life takes us down a road of uncertainty.

The Angelic Message to Joseph:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:18-21

The Scriptural record of Joseph ends abruptly after Jesus was twelve years old, so we know very few details beyond the early years of Jesus’ life in regard to Joseph’s influence on the family. However, we do see a man of noble character and a right heart before God. It is obvious Joseph knew Mary was with child prior to the angelic dream. However, it is unclear whether Mary shared with Joseph the source of her pregnancy before the angel. Either way, surely the news of her condition sparked in him an internal conflict. Joseph’s gentle nature and concern for Mary is clear in not wanting to publicly embarrass her. Like Mary, we see a man with the strength to believe the word and promises of God when a crisis of the heart could have led him to trust his emotions. In verse 24, it records his response to the Angel’s message “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, …”.  Without hesitation Joseph received Mary as his wife and subsequent narratives reveal a man who faithfully cared for Mary and the Son he welcomed as a gift from God.

A Son Is Given

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Signs of that first Christmas past rang true to the promises God set-forth in His Word through the prophets of old. The divine overshadowing of a young virgin set in motion the events that would shake the world and inaugurate the age of grace. For this we celebrate His First Advent because the Son of God was given and became the way of reconciliation for God and man.

Like Mary and Joseph in our humanness we can struggle to understand the mysteries of God and the unexpected detours life sends our way. But God has sent us a messenger too, His Son, Jesus Christ. He has told us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and to all who receive Him are given the right to become children of God. I encourage you not to dismiss, ignore or presume on the Christmas Sign and Message of Christ but to seek Him with the heart of and the wonder of a child.

For those who receive the gift of God’s grace in Christ, we can truly know as the multitude of Heavenly Host declared “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men”. It is then we know and have the assurance God is truly with us – The Immanuel. In Him there is a hope and a future.

Note: Most of Isaiah 9:6-7 is yet to be fulfilled and will be discuss in a future post regarding the signs of the Second Advent of Christ.

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