Inspired by Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:17-19
Advent is finally upon us. It is probably my favorite season of the church year. I think that’s because it’s so counter-cultural. While the rest of the world is in full crazy Christmas mode by this time, Advent whispers to us, ever so gently, “Hey, slow down. Christmas isn’t here yet. This craziness, isn’t Christmas. There are other things to attend to besides these things. But Advent is different things to different people. For much of the world, it is simply the chaotic month leading up to Christmas that exploded on Black Friday.
In the liturgical life of the church, it is a season of hope, a season of waiting, a season of calm, in spite of how the rest of the world experiences it. It’s the eye of the storm, filled with peace and comfort. But for many, even us, it is anything but a peaceful time. It is filled with busyness, with frantic shopping, with social events, with financial burden, and of course, no Advent would be complete without family drama: Where will we gather for the holidays? Who’s cooking? How are we getting there? If he starts talking politics I swear I will leave! Ah yes, family drama at its finest. And we haven’t even got to Christmas yet!
To give you a little background, Habakkuk was a prophet along with Jeremiah in the city of Jerusalem just before the exile, just before the Babylonian empire conquered and sent God’s people out of their homeland. And by this time it’s too late for the city or the kingdom to be saved. Unlike Jeremiah from last week, Habakkuk is not there to tell them how they can escape destruction.
Habakkuk is there to spell out their doom for them, and give them hope for a future, which, I know, seems pretty contradictory, but such is faith. And it all begins with an argument between two family members: Habakkuk and God. Like I said, what would an Advent be without some family drama! Habakkuk voices what was probably on everyone's mind! “How long O Lord, will I call for help you not listen?” he asks. “I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us.”
The prophet doesn’t hold back. He takes this complaint to God like it’s a lawsuit. I imagine Habakkuk red in the face, trembling, practically foaming at the mouth, as he yells at God at the top of his lungs! “How long, O Lord!” How long? And then God answers. And lo and behold, it’s probably not what he expected. I mean, if I yelled at one of my parent’s like that as a teenager, I’d have been popped in the mouth! But not Habakkuk.
He was probably expecting to be struck down by a lightning bolt right where he stood. But that’s not what God does. Now don’t get me wrong, I imagine God responding with a raised voice too, but with passion, not so much with anger. God begins by confirming their worst fears, that the Babylonians will indeed invade and conquer. Not exactly the news he wanted to hear. And so, Habakkuk and God continue this back and forth argument.
Then, Habakkuk says, ok, I’ll keep watch, and see how God will respond to my complaint. And God responds, again probably not the way he wanted God to respond. He wanted an immediate solution, an immediate rescue out of the predicament they were in. But God, always full of surprises, instead says, “There is still a vision.” A vision for the future. Always the optimist our God is. But in the moment, I’m sure that was not comforting to Habakkuk or any of God’s people. “A vision?” they probably thought, “We don’t need no vision statement right now God! We need rescuing, right now!” But God is relentless in this hope business! It’s almost annoying really. No matter how dire the circumstances, God never tires of delivering hope.
So God continues, “If [the vision] delays, wait for it; for it is surely coming; it will not be late.” In other words, whenever it arrives, it will arrive exactly when it was supposed to. It’ll be right on time! And Habakkuk, always the realist, takes a look around at the predicament they find themselves in, at the fig trees that don’t bloom, bare vines, withering crops, unproductive fields, abandoned sheep, and lost cattle—a very bleak picture he paints—and he too responds in a very surprising way.
After painting this bleak picture, the prophet Habakkuk says, “I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.” And I thought to myself, “Rejoice? How can you rejoice Habakkuk? Everything is falling apart! Nothing is going right! And you’re rejoicing?” I went from arguing with God over this passage to arguing with Habakkuk!
And that’s when I realized some things that I can rejoice in, when I’m in the midst of turmoil and anguish and arguments with God—that I have a God who welcomes those arguments, that I have a God who wants me to name my complaints, to take God to task when things aren’t going right, that I have a God who will not stop giving me hope, no matter how much I may not want to hear it in the moment! Because God is relentless in this hope business.
And on top of that, Habakkuk ends by saying that God will give him feet like a deer to walk upon the heights. In other words, God will give him the ability to walk on difficult terrain. Have you ever followed someone even though you disagreed with them? Or followed someone even though you couldn’t see where they were taking you? That’s a special skill, isn’t it? That’s what Habakkuk is doing here. He’s looking around at his world and probably thinking, “I don’t see any signs of hope here God. I don’t see how your promise of a future could possibly be real. However, I know you, and that’s going to have to be enough right now. So, I’ll rejoice in that.”
As we dive headfirst into this Advent, with all its chaos, stress, debt, and family drama, my hope for us is this: that we can accept the hope that God continues to give to us, that we can believe the promised future that God continues to proclaim into our lives, especially when things look bleak.
That no matter what, no matter if everything this Christmas isn’t perfect, no matter if we couldn’t give all we wanted to give to our loved ones, no matter if all the decorations went up, no matter the family arguments that will indubitably ensue, Christ will come to us, Christ has come to us, and Christ will continue to break through all of that to be by our side. In spite of it all, Christmas will come. Now that can fill you with a sense of dread, but my prayer for you, is that it fills you with a sense of relief, when you need it the most, and with the prophet Habakkuk, be able to rejoice in those moments. Amen.