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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
November 27, 2022
Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:3b-6, 17-19
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Usually on the first Sunday of Advent, we hear readings that prophesy about the end times and the need to be prepared for them at all times. To us, 2000 or so years after they were written, those readings are scary and somewhat cryptic.
But for the people who first heard them, they’re words of encouragement – meant to build them up and strengthen their faith during times of intense persecution and violence. And for the early Christians, these writings assured them that Jesus would return, and that when he does, he’ll bring an end to all oppression and injustice.
Our reading for today, though, is different. It begins our Advent season, and our new church year, with a cry of lament. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” It seems to be out of place in this season of preparation and looking forward.
And yet – we are still waiting for Jesus to return. And as we wait and look forward, we have plenty of reasons to ask that question and lament, because there are times when it doesn’t seem like it’s likely that Jesus will ever come back.
And in a sense, this cry of lament – “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” – is a cry of faith. In this prophetic reading, instead of Habakkuk prophesying to the people about the consequences of their actions, we hear him demanding an answer from God.
And as we read further, we discover that this whole book is an answer to the question, “What is faith?” And this book is only 3 chapters total so, as always, I invite you to read it through when you have time.
When Habakkuk asks this initial question and the ones that follow, he was crying out in the midst of widespread famine and disaster, and the Babylonians were set to invade Jerusalem. So, for him, it looked like God hadn’t upheld God’s end of the covenant to protect the people. And he was upset about that.
But instead of asking these questions and then moving on, Habakkuk settled in to wait for God’s answer. He wasn’t going to let God off the hook. And God does answer – and in the answer, God promises Habakkuk that what was happening in the world at that moment wasn’t all there would be. That God’s vision would still be fulfilled.
Habakkuk learns, too, that his job wasn’t just to sit and wait for that to happen, but to proclaim that vision for all the world. To write it on tablets – clearly enough so that a runner can take it far and wide. And to remember that in all the confusion and chaos of what was happening, the people who were righteous were the ones who live by their faith. By their trust in God.
And with that response, Habakkuk is eventually able to honestly move through his lament – not gloss over it or pretend it isn’t real. He’s able to name the reality that he’s in – that people are dying of starvation, and that from where he sits there are no visible signs of God’s vision coming to fruition.
But he will rejoice in the Lord, and names God as his salvation and strength. Because God has kept promises throughout history, and he can trust that God will keep this one, too.
Habakkuk wrote these words 500 years before Jesus was born. But they still have meaning for us today. We know that as we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth in a few weeks, that we’re also preparing for him to come back and fulfill the vision that God has for our world.
And the temptation, especially in US culture – especially in this season, is to just jump right to the celebration and the rejoicing of Christ’s birth. To ignore the reality of our world or pretend it isn’t as bad as it is. To forget that there’s more beyond this season.
But the beauty of Habakkuk – the questions he asks, the answers he demands, and God’s responses – is that it allows us to be honest, especially in this season. It empowers us to remember that God has promised us more, and better, for our world.
It shows us that the heart of faith is to continue to hope and persevere when all else appears to the contrary. To trust that God keeps the promises God makes, even when they don’t happen as soon as we want them to. And it gives us the freedom, and the responsibility, to proclaim these things to the whole world.
I won’t rehash the statistics here, but this year has been particularly violent in terms of mass killings. And these last few weeks, it seems to be happening more and more.
We are all shocked and saddened when we hear about them, especially when they happen in schools or when a particular group of people is targeted. We mourn the loss of life, and the brokenness of our world. But we also mourn the loss of community that comes with each one – the loss of the sense of safety and security that was once felt.
We experience these emotions every time. And as Christians we keep drawing on our faith to get us through, and we help strengthen each other because we’re in this together. But sometimes it’s hard. And we ask, “O Lord, how long shall we cry out to you?” It sounds weak, but that’s a cry of faith.
It’s often said that the opposite of faith is doubt, but I disagree. For me, the opposite of faith is certainty. Because, by definition, faith is trust – and if you’re certain about something you don’t have any reason to trust it, because it’s right there.
But faith in God and in God’s promises is all about trust. Trusting that God’s vision for the world will one day come into being, even when it doesn’t seem likely. Trusting that vision enough that we share it with others – proclaiming that when it comes into being, our world will be a place where everyone is safe and loved all the time, everyone always has enough food to eat, and a secure place to live.
Faith is trusting that, even though we don’t know when Jesus will return, he will. God has promised us these things – scripture is filled with stories of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises. And we all have our own stories to tell about God’s faithfulness to us.
And what we know from our experiences is that faith keeps us moving forward. Faith allows us to look ahead – to imagine something better than what is now. Faith allows us to trust in God’s promise even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to.
Living by our faith reminds us that God does have a vision for our world, and that it will surely come. Living by our faith gives us the resilience and the perseverance to wait for that vision, even when it seems to tarry.
Living by our faith allows us to name the reality we’re currently living in and still rejoice in God’s goodness and steadfast love, to proclaim God’s call to suffer alongside our neighbor and love them, to proclaim that God is our strength and our salvation.
It gives us the courage to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” year after year, and imagine the world as God desires it for us, even when the world today doesn’t seem to make sense. And it gives us the heart to sing “Joy to the World” every Christmas and proclaim God’s vision far and wide.
It’s a proclamation that’s needed now more than ever.
In this season, may our collective voice boldly proclaim God’s vision of safety and love and plenty and security to the whole world. May we recognize that God has given us the responsibility and the power to do so. And may we trust that it will come into being. Thanks be to God! Amen.