This is the heart of the Christmas story. God stepped in to the chaos that is the world in order to pull people out of their desperate and hopeless situation. He did this in a very specific way at a very specific point in history. He stepped in and clothed himself with humanity in the person Jesus of Nazareth.
God Stepped In
It was 30 years ago, but I remember it clearly as if it happened yesterday. It was really only a moment of time, just a random thing that happened on a non-specific day in the life. I was a senior at Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville, and in that moment of time I was on my way from band to my next class.
Now if you’re a Cougar you know that band class is on the opposite side of the school from where the senior’s lockers are located next to the gym. In those days we had four minutes between classes, so in order to make it to the next class on time, you had to book it down the hall. I needed to grab something from my locker, so I was really moving, taking no prisoners. It kind of resembled the running of the bulls at Pamplona: bodies were flying everywhere as the mass of humanity rumbled along down the halls.
I don’t know if today the students at Craig still have four minutes to get to class. They probably now serve latte’s in the halls as students leisurely saunter from one learning opportunity to another. But that’s beside the point.
As I was saying, I was in between classes and moving rapidly to avoid being late when I came to the central intersection in the middle of the school. As I arrived I was of course looking both ways so that I wouldn’t run over anyone. Getting through that intersection was a free-for-all. There were no traffic lights. No one in America had even heard of round-abouts. So I was using all the skill I had collected in my years at Craig to swiftly make it through without receiving or causing injury.
On this day, however, something was different. Instead of going through the intersection, students were stopped in clumps along the edges. When I entered the crossing hallway I found out why. There in the middle were two boys circling each other ready to fight. I recognized one of the boys, and in that split second it occurred to me what was going to happen. They were going to try to hit each other a few times, roll on the floor some, and then go to the office for a long time. In that moment what I will blame on the Lord something happened in my brain. I didn’t stop. I kept moving, not even breaking stride, and as I did I reached out, grabbed the kid I knew by the shirt, and dragged him with me on my way to my locker.
Then what happened next was really surprising, and this is perhaps why I remember this fairly insignificant event in an average day 30 years ago. He thanked me for pulling him out of that situation. He thanked me. You see, he didn’t want to fight, but for whatever reason whether it was ego or adrenaline, he couldn’t pull himself out. Through no plan or fault of my own, I stepped in and pulled him out. We talked for a few moments, the whole time while I am briskly walking to my next class, and that was the last time I ever talked to him.
The reason why I shared this story with you is that I think we are all, at one time or another, just like this kid. We’ve gotten ourselves into a situation. It may be through nothing that we’ve have done, or it may be that we’ve brought it on ourselves. But whatever the reason, what we need is for someone to step in and pull us out of a place that we have no way out of.
This is in fact the heart of the Christmas story. Our heavenly father stepped in to the chaos that is the world and pulled us out of what we all come to understand at one point or another is an increasingly desperate situation. He did this in a very specific way at a very specific point in history. He stepped in and clothed himself with humanity.
Now some people have a problem believing that God could become a human. Certainly the majority of the Jews at the time of Jesus didn’t believe it. They were appalled at the thought that the holy and righteous God of the universe would lower himself to the level of a human being. In our day and age many think God becoming a man is unbelievable. It’s ironic because it seems like every other movie has an alien creature inhabiting the body of some human. It’s a common theme in Hollywood.
But we believe because the Bible tells us so that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, was conceived by the virgin Mary, he was born in the land of Israel during the time of Roman occupation, lived about 33 years before he was unjustly put to death never having committed a crime in his life. We know that for those 33 years God was with people in human flesh.
We know that God was with us when he came to earth as a man, but what about after that? 40 days after his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and was no longer on earth with people in human form. During the Christmas season we sing the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Immanuel, God with us.” Isaiah was prophesying of Jesus coming to earth as a man.
Is God still with us? Some would say that with all the pain and suffering that is in the world that shows that God left the planet a long time ago. Some would say he was never here to begin with. But Jesus, whom the Bible says is God with us, said this about life on earth after him.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Before he left earth for heaven, Jesus made a promise that the Spirit of truth would be sent to and remain with his disciples. Now the Spirit is none other than God Himself. We also refer to him as the Holy Spirit. Jesus then makes a remarkable statement when he says that they know him, but the world does not know him. The major difference between the disciples and the world with regard to the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit lives with them and is in fact inside them. However, Jesus made it crystal clear that the world cannot receive the Spirit to live inside them because they can’t see him. The eyes of their heart are blinded to God the Spirit, so he cannot be with them.
It’s great to celebrate when Jesus came to earth as a baby. God was with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men and the people of Nazareth where Jesus grew up and the disciples and the Jewish people. It’s great to realize the awesome reality of God coming to earth as a human. It is simply mind-blowing. And to think about what he did for us on the cross. We who didn’t deserve this incredible gift, God gave himself anyway because He loves us.
But we need to realize that Jesus left. God in human form is no longer with us here and now. Yet God the Holy Spirit is with some people. When we talk about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas, as good church people we rightly refer to God’s gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Yes absolutely! If you haven’t received the gift of life through Jesus there is no better time than today to open that gift. I would encourage you to do so. It was the best gift that I ever received.
But did you know that the gift of Jesus comes with another gift? The gift of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s gift of being with us all the time, every day, 24/7. Are you one of the people that God is with today, not just those shepherds and wise men from long ago? There are times when it doesn’t feel like God is still with you. I know. I’m a human being too. But I want to point out three things which we need to turn to and turn back to every time it feels like God has left the building.
Recognize that Jesus can do what you can’t do.
It easy to say that God can do anything. It’s less easy to say that God will do anything for me. That’s because it doesn’t take long for us to realize that just because we want or hope for something, it doesn’t mean that the Lord will make it happen. His plan is so often weird from a human perspective. Yet, even though his plan is different than the one that we would draw, in our life, in your life, it is still supernatural. What God does in your life is miraculous and magnificent. You may not see it very clearly, but what God is doing on your behalf is not something that you can do. He is the all-powerful, and He is using that power in your life. When we finally see him as the mover of mountains, we are beginning to see him as he truly is, not just the baby Jesus but the Lord God Almighty.
Recognize that Jesus knows what you don’t know.
My life now and my future God knows. He is well-acquainted with it. That should give us hope because everything in the Bible points to a bright future for everyone who knows him. When our future looks bleak, that punctures our hope. We face depression at times because we have no hope for our future. But God knows where the light is at the end of the tunnel. He knows when the break in the clouds in coming. Have faith in God! Trust him that he knows even when you don’t.
Recognize that Jesus is with you even when you can’t feel it.
Think about this. God came to earth because he was concerned about people not knowing he was with them. God went to the cross because only he could break down the walls that kept people from being with him. God’s purpose and intention has always been to be with us. He wouldn’t have left heaven for earth, left life for death in order to leave us on our own! This is why he sent his Holy Spirit to be with us forever.
Part of why we fail to see that God is with us is because we live in a world that rejects the truth, and it so easily rubs off on us. Why did Jesus say that the world can’t receive the Spirit of truth? It is because they can’t receive Jesus, and he is the truth. He said it himself many times, but the most well-known is from John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
If you can’t receive the gift of Jesus, then you won’t be able to receive Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit either. Why would anyone not want the gift of God being with them? Yet, anyone who has not trusted in Christ alone and received the gift of eternal life by faith does not have God with them. They need God to step in and pull them out.
But if by faith you have received Jesus Christ, personally entrusting your life and future to him, not only has God stepped in and pull you out, he has also stepped into your life in the person of the Holy Spirit. And when God steps in he makes him home in your heart. He never leaves you. God is with you. He is in you. You are never alone.