Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

It’s Time to Enter the War

In all my years working with congregants, Walt was one of the oddest. At times, he could be insufferable. It was hard to reason with him. He often drove away those checking out our church, badgering them with questions as they fled. And yet, there were moments when Walt was a generous, wonderful gentleman. As I write this, I am sitting in a chair he purchased for me forty years ago. Forty years! He insisted that, in my study, I have the kind of support that will protect my back.

One day, visiting him in his living room, Walt could sense that I found him to be a conundrum. An ecclesiastical enigma. Looking me in the eye, he simply said, “D-Day—that’s all you need to know.” I began to realize Walt was explaining himself. He was there on June 6, 1944, a terrified young man sent as part of the largest amphibious military operation ever to defeat evil. I never probed. I could not imagine the horrors he faced, but I began to realize he carried a trauma too horrific to forget. I found it much easier to extend grace, even as I assigned handlers to watch him when he made his way to the foyer.

I share this because I think we sometimes forget—or have never realized—that Christmas is the celebration of God’s D-Day. It may not be all we need to know, but it is a big part of the message. If you think about it—if you go back to the Biblical narrative–Bethlehem amounted to a divine beach landing to recapture lost territory. This gentle Jesus we tend to domesticate came to destroy the works of the devil. This is what the Apostle John declared in his first letter (3:8). No wonder when Jesus appeared, one can fairly say all hell broke loose.

When the empire (the face of the devil) was made aware of Jesus’s coming birth, orders were sent out to murder Bethlehem’s children. Why? Like Babylon, like Rome, and like many of the powers today, the empire tolerates no rivals. A corrupt religious system conspired to destroy, a Judas to betray, and an alliance between Rome and Jerusalem joined to put Christ to death.

If this was the end of it all, then we should expect a December holiday to be nothing more than eggnog, Christmas trees, and music to mask an unsettling feeling the world is going to hell. But Jesus’s coming was the beginning of the end for evil. God’s rescue plan is to save us from perdition.

This was the point of John’s words in 3:8. Jesus came and declared, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” It continues to forcefully advance, even if it is not always evident on the front page of the news. We still live in a fierce war zone, for Satan has not conceded defeat. At the cross, however, the powers of darkness were disarmed, meaning they no longer have authority over one who has given oneself to God. As one theologian put it, “They rule on the basis of a lie—that they still have real power.” But they don’t.

It seems, however, that few today give any thought to this theological backdrop. Christmas is just another holiday, one that comes to give needed cheer during the dreariness of winter. It has devolved into a season of consumer frenzy, of mindless melodies, and of ridiculous inflatables that hold sway over neighbors’ yards. Christmas does not seem to inspire a sense of urgency, an awareness of what is increasingly at stake. The truth has got lost amidst all the trivia.

It’s time we awaken, both to the realities of this cosmic D-Day and the war that continues. Behind the oppressive regimes of leaders like Putin, Kim, and Xi is an empire that remains increasingly hostile to God. We still face a spiritual realm that opposes every act of obedience to Christ, every proclamation of truth, and every advance of God’s kingdom. Behind the unspeakable evil of terrorist groups like Hamas is a monstrous serpent who finds delight in creating a culture of death. And now we are warned of an emerging AI without moral boundaries, of technologies that threaten civilization.

I am finding Scot McKnight’s newest book, Revelation for the Rest of Us, to be a helpful guide these days. It is far more than some apocalyptic commentary on the Bible’s final book. It is a call to take up arms, to become dissidents who will join with Jesus and not compromise his lordship. We can no longer afford to conform to what culture expects of us. We cannot be lulled into a moral sleep, where coarse language and sexual depravity are acceptable norms.

With Jesus, we must become insurgents who think “theo-politically,” recognizing that God’s politics are the only politics. We must be cosmic-centric, not nation-centric. This means stopping our fawning over earthly leaders, as if they are our true hope. Instead, we must place our greatest trust in God. It is beyond time to quit playing the culture’s power games.

Currently, we live between D-Day and VE-Day. I think Walt would put it this way. We are in a mop-up operation, but it is still dangerous. Though Jesus has come to destroy the works of the devil, we are still in a fight. We either resist the darkness or become a casualty.

It may be that American philosopher Peter Kreeft was not overstating when he summed up Christmas this way—“The whole reason for the most important event in human history—Jesus’ birth—was spiritual warfare, God’s invasion of enemy-occupied territory to reclaim His property—the souls of men and women”

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