Habakkuk 1, 2, 3 Selected Verses
Our theme for Advent this year is “The Growing Edge.” The four themes we celebrate are hope, peace, joy, and love. Which are really excellent words, really excellent Christian words. Some people say they are tired words, that they don’t mean anything anymore, that they are too nice or too vague. I agree that they are words that get tossed around a lot this time of year, but I think that if we pause and consider them, they are words of power and challenge to us.
Everyone wants hope, peace, joy, and love, don’t we? I do. I want them for myself and I want them for my loved ones and I want them for the world. But they don’t just happen. Stockings and trees and candles don’t produce them. Presents certainly don’t produce them. And so each year as we come to Advent and talk about these themes, the question is always “but how?” Advent is a season of preparation, as we prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child in our very messy world. It’s a season where we once again manage a tension, this time it’s the tension between waiting and preparing. This year, Advent 2022, I suggest to you that we are called to prepare ourselves by paying attention to our growing edges. And that hope, peace, joy, and love, are growing edges for all of us. In this Advent season, let us consider together how we prepare ourselves with hope, peace, joy, and love.
The best way for me to explain the feeling of Advent is by comparing it to pregnancy, appropriate, huh? Expectation, preparation, waiting: something good is coming and there are things we can and must do to prepare for it; but ultimately it comes in its own time, sometimes surprising but always welcome. That’s the kind of preparation and waiting we do during Advent.
Advent always begins with hope. Often the scriptures used to explain this hope are the ones from the Old Testament prophets, and so that is where we shall go this morning. I invite you to find in your Bibles the book of Habakkuk. It’s a very short book, one of the minor prophets, by which we mean one of the 12 shorter prophetic books. It’s also very close to the end of the Old Testament so the easiest way to find it is to use the table or contents, or find the book of Matthew in the New Testament and go backwards from there. It’s the fifth book from the end. This is another book of prophetic poetry, which means it’s not all going to make perfect sense to us. This one is even a little more challenging because it doesn’t give any specific time cues. No mention of who was king or what was happening, just jumps right in to the visions. We assume from the context that it is before the southern kingdom of Judah has been destroyed because it references the Babylonians and they are the ones who eventually destroy Jerusalem and take some people into exile. In this book that hasn’t quite happened yet, but at this point it seems to be inevitable. I rather like that there’s no specific time cues here because for me gives the book a timeless quality, as though it could be speaking to us now. Let’s see if you feel the same. We’re going to read a little and talk a little and read a little more this morning instead of reading in one big chunk. I begin in chapter 1, verses 1 through 4.
The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Does that sound familiar to anyone else? Anyone else feel this way? So interesting, the word translated prophecy right there at the beginning, is actually a word that means “burden.” This is the burden that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long must I cry out “Violence!” but God does nothing? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me, there is strife, conflict abounds and justice never prevails. Sound familiar?
Dear ones, as we begin this season of Advent, if the state of the world is a burden on your heart, then you are in good company. If you feel like it’s not supposed to be this way, you’re right! It’s not! To see the world in all its brokenness is a burden to us, and we look for salvation. In the Old Testament the word salvation refers to healing, or rescue, or victory and I think that’s still a pretty good metaphor for what the world needs. In the 1960s there was a theologian named Paul Tillich and he said that in the ancient world, when Jesus first came, people were primarily anxious about death. That was the problem that needed to be solved. In the medieval world, humans were anxious about guilt. In the modern world, people were anxious about meaninglessness. But in the post-modern world, we are primarily anxious about suffering and injustice. That is the problem that needs to be solved; if God is going to save us from something, suffering and injustice are what we feel we need to be saved from. In order for the idea of salvation to be meaningful, it must address our felt need. For most of us now, I would say perhaps even around the world, our felt need is that we need to be healed and rescued and victorious over suffering and injustice. To see the world as it is is a burden for us.
Let’s go on to chapter 2, verses 1 through 3. The prophet says “I will stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.”
The prophet challenges God and then expects a response. And surprisingly, a response comes. Now this is surprising because although God seems to speak a lot in the Bible, I don’t personally often get very direct answers from God. If you do, that’s awesome. If you don’t, let me assure you that there’s nothing wrong with you. Or if there is, it’s the same thing that’s wrong with me and we can hang out. In this case God does respond, but it’s not the response the prophet was hoping for: “There is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
The prophet says the world is mess, what is God going to do about it? God gives an answer, which was that the Babylonians are going to come destroy the country (we skipped that part, it’s the rest of chapter 1). The prophet says that’s a terrible idea. What else are you going to do about it? And God’s response is … wait. Noooooo! Perhaps Americans’ least favorite word: wait. We don’t wait. We want a straight answer. In fact, I’d rather hear “No” than “Wait.” But God says wait, and this is one place that could be a growing edge for us, because it’s not wait with no other information. It’s “there is still a vision, it will surely come.” This is Advent waiting with preparation. Do what you can do in the meantime, but ultimately wait for what God is doing, because you can’t make it go faster. Jesus is coming, change is coming, there are things we can do to prepare, but also we just have to wait.
And finally let’s read the very end of the book, this is chapter 3, verses 17 through 19.
Though the fig tree does not blossom
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer
and makes me tread upon the heights.
From strength to strength, may we be strengthened. Thanks be to God.
This is it, friends: “Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” This is the growing edge: when all evidence is to the contrary, hope anyway. Choose hope. Choose trust.
Why? Why do something that seems so irrational? Well, maybe you choose hope because you can look back and remember when you’ve experienced God’s goodness in the past. Maybe you choose hope because you’ve heard the testimony of other people. Maybe you choose hope because the Bible speaks to you and Hebrews 10:23 says “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope because God who promised is faithful.” Maybe you choose hope because Jesus came or because Jesus will come. In Advent we also look forward to when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the sea.” (That’s also Habakkuk, chapter 2 verse 14.) Or maybe you choose hope to anyway because that’s just the kind of person you want to be. Maybe you choose hope because you want to hope, and who cares if other people think it’s naïve. We get to choose, so choose hope.
The worst thing we’ve ever done is not the last word about us. The worst thing that’s ever been done to us is not the last word about us. What looks like the end is not the end. The world is about to turn. It’s not supposed to be this way. We can choose to hope for the day when we shall beat our swords into plowshares, and God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and we shall all sit under our own vine and fig tree and no one shall make us afraid. And the wolf will lie down with the lamb and a little child will lead them.
Romans chapter 8 verse 24 says, “For in hope were saved (rescued, healed, victorious). Now hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.” The question for us this morning is will we believe it when we see it? Or will we choose to trust it before we see it? Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, hope anyway. This is the growing edge. Amen.