Please join us over the next several weeks as we journey through this Advent season. We will be hearing from many of our City Church staff as well as members of the congregation as we all ponder the mysteries of this season. Today’s contribution comes from our Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Jack L. Carter.
“How Long, O Lord?”
This is the first day of Advent, 2017, and we join in remembering with millions of people around the world who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And once more we are faced with this stark reality: brokenness characterizes our earthly existence, even while we are made whole in Christ. It was the late G.E. Ladd who, in his magisterial writings on the kingdom of God and of Christ, coined the phrase to describe it as “already and not yet.” I have loved and appreciated that insight, and it is still relevant as we, for the next few weeks, consider and remember Christ’s first coming, that first Advent. “Advent” for the saints before His coming required a stance of active waiting, and that stance is yet required of us.
And so the title of this day’s meditation is “How long, O Lord?” At least 43 times in the Bible we find the question, “how long?” And that haunting question is expressed by different speakers in various situations. For example, God Himself asks Israel in the wilderness, “How long will the people despise Me? And how long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me?” Another example is when God asks Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” Even Jesus speaks to the nation of Israelites and asks, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” Does even God’s patience run out? Can even God’s patience become thin?
Little wonder, then, that we hear this expression on the lips of mortals. From Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Nehemiah, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and many more we hear the very same cry, “How long, O Lord?” Even the souls of the slaughtered, martyred saints who are under the altar cry out, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before You judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants on the earth?” And they were simply told to “rest a little while longer.”
But perhaps the most poignant cry from a servant of God is found on the lips of John the Baptist when he was in Herod’s prison. At some point in that imprisonment, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for another?” This is another “How long?” without using those exact words. And remember, these words are coming from him who was the “Elijah who is to come.” John had declared, truly, that Jesus was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus, (Johns says) is the one who must “increase” and “lays the axe to the root of the tree.” But as John lay in the dungeon of Machaeus, terrible questions arose in his mind. What if, after all, there had been some terrible mistake on his part? Was it all a reality, or could it have been only a dream, only a reflection of his own imagination? John was undergoing an hour of darkness and feeling the awful power of that darkness. “Am I right? Are you He?”
But I am convinced that in that real conflict, John overcame, as must all the sons of God overcome. John’s very real despair opened the door of hope. The helpless doubt, which none could solve save One, John brought to Jesus, and Jesus received it, answered it, and overcame it. Our ultimate answers will always lie in Christ. Will we allow our struggles to lead us to Christ, or from Christ? “To whom shall we go? You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.”
The question of John, “Are you He?” meant something like this: “Are You He that is to establish the kingdom of God in its outward power and fullness NOW, or have we to wait for another?” And the answer from Jesus is “Yes!” with a provision. In Him the signs of the kingdom came, but the fullness of that kingdom is not yet. And then Jesus gave John and us a new “Beatitude.” “Blessed is he who takes no offense at Me; who is not scandalized by Me.” Faith in Christ, which means resting in His distinctive work and word, and believing submission to the humbleness of the Gospel, will be more than enough to strengthen us both in head and heart.
Advent 2017 will include for us longing, yearning, patience, faith, and hope, a posture of uplift, tethered to a King who came and is also coming; in other words, “the already and not yet.”