Who can deliver us?
When will he come?
What shall be the occasion of the Lord's rescue?
Such is the sentiment of those anticipating a Savior. This is, no doubt, what would have been on the mind of first century Jews of Palestine suffering under Roman occupation. To add insult to injury, Joseph had to, by imperial edict, take his young (very pregnant) wife several miles back to his hometown just to satisfy Rome's "head count." This is no small imposition to journey on foot. How could someone imagine bringing a child into such conditions?
The mournful dirge can be heard from the poor, the harried and the oppressed. The sad "countenance of the conquered" is evident in every face that won't quite make eye contact. The imposition of a ruler's will upon people that will never met him can be a strong depressant. For those that hope in the deliverance of the Lord, the cry goes ever upward, "How long, O Lord? How long?"
There is a sense in which the American patriot directs this mourning at the condition of his own country, for indeed the steady usurpation of liberty from D.C. housed tyrants is cause for such lamentations. However, there is a far greater sense in which this lament cry is common to all humankind. It is the nature of man to oppress one another, to seize power and maintain it with undiscernible labyrinths of law and statue. There is no corner of the Earth where rulers are not exercising (or seeking to exercise) constrictive power over their people, and claiming to do so "for their own good." The United States of America is my country, and therefore the land for whom I cry out; but my song of mourning harmoniously joins the global and historic tune of all people wishing that "Caesar hadn't imposed his census on us this way."
But it is not merely for liberation from political oppression for which people cry out. We intuitively know that this is part and parcel to the human condition. Governmental systems may facilitate this oppression to varying degrees (I argue passionately that the US Constitution constructs a system least friendly to oppression of any in history), but it ultimately is NOT the fault of these systems that oppression occurs. The finest system will not completely rescue us from oppression, for such oppression has existed in so many systems of history. Thus, this instinct to oppress one another is resident within the human condition.
The strong impose their will upon the weak.
Observe any playground and the "bully dynamic" will reveal itself soon enough. Day care settings are laboratories in which this trait of the human soul emerges as well. Very few of those who work with children must be persuaded of the depravity of man; they witness it in seed form everyday. Some assume that with time the micro evolution of people growing up carries them out of such base instincts. Indeed such is the role of the moral training of parents and the Church. But this aspect of human nature is too ingrained, too attached to the soul, infecting all human pursuits.
The cry for liberation is not merely the longing for freedom from political oppression, but for liberation from the "curses" inherent in the human condition. How long, O Lord? How long must the world be as it is? How long must we be as we are? This is the most appropriate sentiment of Christmas Eve - the eve of liberation.
Tonight we mourn, and quiver with anticipation; yet tomorrow we celebrate and rejoice in the surprising, radical, unpredictable, revolutionary, unexplainable salvation of the Lord. How is it that the God who created humans, that subsequently have ruined their own condition, would rescue those same humans by becoming one of them? (Parenthetically - Let me make this clear: I have a great affection for my dog; but if he misbehaves, I'm not about to stoop to the level of the dog to get him back on track. He'll learn of my authority in other ways, but I'm NOT about to try becoming "like" the dog.) The God who creates humankind, though not responsible for its brokenness, stoops to the level of humanity to rescue it. Deity takes on humanity. He who arranged the pattern of the stars must now be nursed in the arms of a young woman. The One that made all things, and by him all things are held together, must now be changed a couple of times a day. None, none, NONE would have expected that. It is too outlandish to anticipate. Therefore, the rescue cannot be fully seen until it occurs.
And so the mournful tune is sung. The lament is heard from oppressed people of all nations and at all times, "How long?" The oppression has been more severe for some than for others, but all who sing know its sting. Our hope is not is a political challenger to the present administration, nor in electing representatives that share our view much more. Instead our hope is in the One who can completely address, rescue and change the human condition. The birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated tomorrow, but in the meantime the longing for deliverance must be massaged through mournful anticipation.