By the interstate highway, among all the billboards and business signs, appears one large hand-made sign that says, “Warning! Prepare to meet God!”

The first time I saw that sign, I wondered if it was put there to indicate a particularly dangerous stretch of highway. That, of course, is overthinking (something I do quite often). The location was random; the sincere intent was to get people thinking about the need to be prepared at any time to meet the Lord. After all, none of us knows what tonight or tomorrow may bring.

The last time I saw that sign, I noticed that it stands right in front of an Appleby’s restaurant. “That can’t be good for business,” I thought. I pointed out the combination to my daughter, and we began joking about posting that sign in the school cafeteria, either at the entrance or as a banner over the food line.

Context is everything, even when it comes to signs. A church with a sign that says “Jesus saves!” has a certain message in mind. A bank with a sign that says “Jesus saves!” possibly has a different message in mind.

I heard of two competing restaurants in the heart of London. One day one of the restaurants proudly posted a sign that said, “The Queen ate here!” By the end of the day, the other restaurant had posted a sign that said, “God save the Queen!”

I am thinking of a man I see some mornings on my way to work. He stands at a bus stop at a busy intersection holding a sign that says “John 3:16.” That’s all it says–not the actual content of the verse, just the reference. No suggestion to go look up the verse and read it and believe it, just the reference.

It seems to me that anyone who knows the meaning of John 3:16 does not need to see this sign. Anyone who needs to know the information contained in John 3:16 does not know what the sign means or how to find its meaning. Maybe in all the days that man has stood at that bus stop with his sign, one backsliding Christian saw “John 3:16” and began to think about the Bible and church and the love of God and salvation through Jesus Christ and had a life-changing moment. I doubt it. God can work such miracles, of course, but I fear that this man with his sign thinks he is witnessing, when he could accomplish far more with one conversation with a friend or a neighbor. J.

A partridge in a pear tree

Christmas Day—the first day of Christmas—the Feast of the Nativity–the Festival of the Incarnation of our Lord: by any name, this is a special and holy day. For weeks people have been preparing to celebrate this day. For centuries, traditions and stories have been shaped around this day. Charles Dickens, Clement Clarke Moore, O. Henry, and Dr. Seuss have populated the holiday of Christmas with figures almost as familiar to most of us as the members of our own families.

Christmas can bring unhappiness at times. Some people remember family members and friends who are no longer alive to celebrate the holiday with the rest of us. Others remember family members and friends who are alive but are many miles away, separated by distance and by necessity. Still others remember family members and friends who are estranged by emotional distance, by disputes and disagreements, by grudges and feuds, by disappointments and dismay. Yet others yearn for people they have not yet met, sensing an emptiness and seeking the right person to fill that emptiness.

All these impediments to happiness can make Christmas less merry. Yet the true meaning of Christmas remains: good news of great joy for all people. A Savior has been born; he is Christ the Lord! This is a sign for his people: a swaddled baby lying in a manger. He has defeated sins and all evil, yes, even death itself. He provides for his people on the schedule he knows is best. He rules the universe and is coming soon to fix all that is broken and to make the world perfect forever.

Whatever ways you are celebrating this holiday, and whatever concerns make this day less merry for you, may the joy of Christmas shine in your heart and in your life. May it shine through you also to enlighten the lives of those near you. J.