I suspect our instinctive answer would be ‘No’. We want to be left to ourselves; people should mind their own business. But every now and then, we realise it is a good thing when someone intervenes in our affairs.
I recall, vividly, an incident that took place on the school bus when I was 14 years old. I was confronted by a bully who kept hitting me on the back of the head. He only stopped when I said I would fight him on the football oval. Now, you need to know two things about the 14 year-old Tony Edwards. I was not very well built, I had never had a real punch up in my life and I was not very discerning. This other boy was always in fights. He was a fierce competitor. I had seen him fight. He was deadly with his punches. He was also older and bigger than I was. But I felt I had no choice.
No one else knew about it, so it was just the two of us on the oval. I was scared to death. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would deafen me. I thought I was walking out to my execution. He began to push me, so I pushed him back, careful not to push him too hard – I didn’t want to make him angry. So that’s what it was for a few minutes. Just a pushing match. Neither of us were prepared to throw the first serious punch. Then he suddenly dodged my push, and swung harder and landed a punch in my stomach which winded me. It wasn’t very much, but I thought this was a good time to go down. Then suddenly he noticed someone was standing there. A stranger was crossing the oval and stopped to watch. I stayed down, pretending to be more hurt than I was. The bully did not like the intervention of this stranger so he clipped me over the head and said, “See you later,” and he was gone. I look back and feel thankful that someone intervened in my affairs. Who knows, it might have been an angel.
Intervention can be a good thing if the one interfering has the ability to remedy a problem. God intervened into human history. We should remember there is no time when God is not intervening in human history. He is Omni-present. That means He always has His finger on every event. Someone has wisely said, the word history is made up of two words – ‘His Story’. History is nothing else than God’s repeated intervention in human affairs – and so it is His Story. But at Christmas there is a uniqueness to His intervention: God intervenes by becoming one of us.
It is not something we can take for granted. He did not intervene in the catastrophe that befell the angels. One third of the angelic realm fell from the state in which they were created. They rebelled and followed the devil. Forever lost.
Our first parents also rebelled and followed the devil, and plunged the human race into a fallen state of rebellion. God could have left us to our own devices. The problem was beyond our ability to remedy. The problem is sin. But the problem is exacerbated in that we are quite happy with our problem. We think we have it all under control. We do not need to be rescued.
Of course the human race would like Someone to solve all the problems of wars, & injustice, & disease, & climate disasters and poverty; but they don’t want the core problem treated – our selfishness & greed & pride & materialism & worldly ambition & lusts. When our Saviour came to deliver us, there was only a tiny welcoming committee. The ruling authorities tried to assassinate Him. Jesus was born into the presence of hatred and rejection & misunderstanding. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. He intervened, and mostly, His intervention was resented.
He did not come merely to provide us with teachings. We need more than education to save us. Jesus came to intervene and to interrupt and to upset the status quo. Anyone who truly encounters Christ, will have his life turned upside down. He came to overcome the fundamental barrier between God and man; He came to save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).
Otherwise, we might have missed the primary purpose of Jesus’ birth. Without the angel’s words we might have imagined that our sin was not such a big problem at all. We might have imagined, as many still do that Jesus came to be a political liberator – or a Social Reformer – or just a great example to follow. But friends, at Christmas time, it ought to loom high in our minds, that our sin is one big, severe, enormous problem, carrying such terrifying and deadly consequences. If we were able to see all the ramifications of our sins, the shock of it would likely kill us. “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from a disaster worse than death.”
The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means ‘the Lord saves’. I speak a little Hebrew, and in Hebrew you would not say Joshua – there is no “J” in Hebrew – you would say עשׂוהי. If you were going to say, ‘I will save you’ – “אוֹשִׁ֣יעַ אֶתְכֶ֔ם (Jdg 7:7) His name is Jesus because He will save us from a calamity so devastating that Jesus said, those who fall into it – it would be better they were never born.
The angel goes on to explain that the birth of Jesus comes as fulfilment to what God said through the prophet Isaiah, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us’” (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). One Name is not enough.
The Bible calls Him ‘Immanuel’— ‘the Ancient of Days’, ‘the Christ’, ‘the Prince of Peace’, ‘the Good Shepherd’, ‘the Light of the world’, our ‘Redeemer’ – just to name a few. Charles Wesley captures the beauty of ‘God with us’ in the second stanza of his carol, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’: “Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell. Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
In the person of Jesus, born two thousand years ago, God powerfully intervened into the affairs of humanity. It was interference of the best kind. The world has never been the same. Of course the world does not represent it that way, but it is so.
His Kingdom has grown & continues to grow. It triumphed over the persecutions of the Roman Empire. It triumphed over the dark ages. It triumphed in the Reformation. It triumphed over the cold formalism following Charles II restoration to the English throne. It triumphed during the Great Awakening; it triumphed during the great missionary endeavours of the 1800’s – and it will triumph again over the apostasy of our modern plastic churches.
We live in a new dark age smothered under the thick curtain of media & entertainment. But the Lord is still King in His Kingdom, and the gates of hell will not prevail against Him. His Kingdom will triumph.
To answer this, we need to jump to the end of the story. Matthew begins with the angel’s announcement, he ends with the resurrection & final instructions to the disciples. Listen to the last sentence of Matthew’s gospel: Mt. 28:20.
Two thousand years ago, the angels sang God is with us. Today, we continue to sing because God is with us. Jesus is both God and Man. The eternal Son of God became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man, in two distinct natures, and one Person forever. In a world of disasters, He is God with usl.
I am glad for the intervention of that stranger on that day on the oval. But words cannot describe how glad we all can be, that, in Jesus, we worship a God who is willing, and able, to intervene in our lives. Whatever lies ahead for us, whatever 2011 holds for you and me, remember that we can overcome every challenge if Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Have a very merry Christmas. Amen.