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How Long?

At Christmas we rejoice but also must remember that the battle is not over yet, says California Coast professor Dennis Okholm. Still we wait.

Lumpkin - stormy sky

Photo by Matt Lumpkin (MDiv ’11)

Nelson Mandela died during the first week of Advent. I could not help making the connection: waiting for 27 years to be released from the oppressor’s prison; waiting for millennia to be released from the Oppressor by the One promised as far back as Genesis 3:15. I would find it difficult to wait 27 years, let alone millennia.

Yet that is just what we are doing—still waiting. This time we wait not for the arrival of the Promised One, but for him to complete his work. In the meantime, how many more wars, cancers, school shootings, broken marriages, sex traffickers, and inexplicable accidents must we endure before the Promised One appears again? And so, during Advent we learn what it was like for Israel to wait.

We celebrate Christmas with parties, family gatherings, presents under a decorated tree, festive carols, and all the rest. That is as it should be. But there is more to the story than the shepherds hearing an angelic choir and astrologers gifting a new king. Hallmark cards with their snow-covered mangers or Christmas pageants with bathrobe-clad children will not portray Herod’s slaughter of the Bethlehem innocents (Remember them on December 28!) or the circuitous route the Holy Family had to take to get around Herod’s son. The Oppressor’s agents battled against the Promised One from the time of his birth until his death. Those same agents continue to thwart his reign. So we distort the meaning of Christmas if we lose sight of this battle during Advent and Christmastide.

But we will also distort its meaning if we do not link it to Easter. Between the first Christmas and the First Breakfast (John 21:9-14) Jesus gave signs that we are not without hope as he engaged in this battle against the Oppressor: people were healed and raised from the dead; adulterers, prostitutes, and tax collectors were forgiven; storms were calmed at sea and in people’s lives.

So this Christmas Eve, once again, with the church I will rejoice that the risen Promised One has come and will come again, but I will also be sobered by the news that no doubt will blare from my radio when NPR reports it that day. And, once again, I will ask with the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord? How long?” Will it be 27 years? Another millennium? But I will end my plea with the Psalmist and all those whom the Oppressor still harasses: “Though I am poor and afflicted, the Lord will have regard for me. You are my helper and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God.” (Psalm 40)

  • Dennis-Okholm
    Dennis Okholm
    Dennis is an adjunct professor for Fuller California Coast and professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University.