Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:17-19
Have you ever had one of those days where nothing ever seems to go right? You spill your morning beverage. You somehow manage to burn your breakfast, even if it’s a bowl of cereal. The kids, pets, or your spouse has made a huge mess. The car breaks down. You’re late for work, appointments, or meetings. Every time the phone rings it’s some kind of scam. It’s just not your day.
What if that day became a week? What about a month? What if it was the “worst day ever” for a decade, or even longer?
Wouldn’t that just be a miserable way to live? Day after day, with no end in sight, of unrelenting “bad luck.”
In a sense, this is just what Israel is experiencing when the prophet Habakkuk is writing his book, only worse. The Hebrew people are under constant threat of extreme violence. Not very long before the prophet wrote, the Assyrian army destroyed city after city brutally killing the people who lived in them.
Not long after Habakkuk was written, the Babylonian army attacks Jerusalem three times taking their leaders and skilled citizens into exile, before finally attacking one more time destroying the city and the temple. Israel is barely surviving as a nation right now.
Did you know that the book of Habakkuk was once considered dangerous? In World War II the Nazi regime banned a Swiss newspaper in 1940 after it carried a quote from the book in an article on the current state of the world, and in particular criticized the German state. They saw these words as a threat to their own message, and they weren’t going to allow it to spread.
For a book which is written in the midst of extreme violence and suffering, the words of the prophet speak loudly, even if they may not have been appreciated in their own day.
We’ve read three short pieces of the book this morning. The first one, from the very opening of the book, gives us a glimpse into the desperation of the people. We see it right away in verse 2.
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?”
And it continues right through those first verses,
“Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous — therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”
Talk about getting straight to the point and not wasting any time!
This is also a time in the history of the Hebrew people where they had turned away from God. So while there was the prophet Habakkuk, it seems as though there were far fewer people listening than their might have been for other prophets. Yet, Habakkuk continues to speak and cry out to God.
On one of those previously mentioned “worst days ever” have you just stopped and cried out to God wondering why he would ever allow you to suffer this way?
That’s kind of what Habakkuk is doing. He is crying out to God for help on behalf of the entire nation. It seems he’s been at it for a while because he says, “How long…”
“How long do I cry out for help and you do not answer?”
“How long do I point out the violence and you do not save us?”
“How long will the wicked surround us and demonstrate perverse judgement?”
This lament is poured out, you can feel the emotion in his words, you sense the pain the nation is experiencing in the midst of all this violence.
Eventually Habakkuk gets an answer. I’m not sure he will like it. You know what it is? “Wait! Be patient and wait!”
Isn’t that an answer we just hate to receive? When’s dinner? Wait! Is it payday yet? Wait! Is it time to go to the party? Wait!
It doesn’t seem like we’re wired to be patient and wait. Many people, if they could have God give them one character trait, many people would ask for patience. And if that patience could show up right about now rather than later, that would be just fantastic!
In the midst of crying out to God, in the midst of extended pain and suffering, Habakkuk hears an answer to his prayer, and it is to wait. That has got to be incredibly hard for him to hear. His nation is under attack, innocent people are dying. And God says, “wait!” How is this being helpful?
When I’m in prayer and I’m asking God when I should do something, I often hear the word, “Wait.” It’s frustrating because it’s often something I’m excited about and I want to share it! I had to wait about a year before we could start teaching the Hearing God courses. I had to wait another year before we could run our first Set Free! retreat. There’s other stuff I’d like to teach you as well, but I need to wait.
But, in the things I’m asking for, waiting is a whole lot easier than what Habakkuk is asking for. For me, to wait a little longer to teach prayer workshops is not that big of a deal. To not be teaching them is not a life or death situation. But to wait for God to rescue people from violence, that’s very hard to hear. Evil is all around them, but God says “wait.”
This weekend there are G20 meetings happening where world leaders are gathering to discuss matters of importance in the world. Included in these meetings are the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who has been accused of organizing the brutal murder and dismembering of reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Yet, world leaders say they will probably meet with the Crown Prince despite the evidence against him. It’s a tragic story of one man who stood up against what he saw an injustice government, and it cost him his life. It appears his murder was well planned and executed, whoever organized it.
Which is interesting when you think about it. We like to think of evil as chaotic and random. I was reminded that it often is not by an article written by Sarah Condon last week. (http://www.mbird.com/2018/11/as-advent-approaches-evil-is-well-organized/)
She talks about the calculated effort in the killing of the reporter. She also mentioned the holocaust and the organization of all that went on in the killing of millions of Jews. I mean, they built whole complexes and camps intricately designed to maximize their ability to kill people.
And the paperwork. The Nazi paperwork was phenomenally organized. Nazis were able to track millions of individual prisoners because they were so well organized. Sarah Condon says “True evil has deep administrative roots.” These roots go on to lead people to the belief they are just doing their jobs.
When we look at the Nazis and the Holocaust; when we look at 9-11; when we look at those great examples of true evil in our world, we see they are no accidents. They are well planned and well executed efforts of great acts of evil which cost many lives.
When we hear of these things, we want to ask, “Why God? Why did you let this happen? Where were you?”
And then we see what’s happening in the days of Habakkuk who is crying out to God in the midst of great violence and evil, and we wonder why God says, “Wait.”
That’s a word we don’t want to hear. Those are times when we are desperate for God to come in and save people. But instead we wait.
This may seem like a bit of an odd sermon topic in which to kick off Advent. But it’s not. Advent is a great time to ask some of these hard questions. It’s a good time to reflect on what God is doing in the world, even in times of great uncertainty.
Sure, we may not be at the mercy of great violence right now, at least not here in the Western world. There are still hard things for us to understand happening. And people are crying out to God for help.
But there is hope. It can be hard to see at times, but there is hope.
There is hope because God says, “Wait.”
Do you see the hope in that word? Sometimes it’s hard to notice, but there is hope in the word “wait.” Do you see it?
There is hope because even though God is saying “Wait” he is also saying, “I have a plan.”
God does have a plan. Habakkuk had no idea what that plan will be, but when he hears God’s answer to his pleas for help to “wait” what does he do? Does he get angry and curse God? No. Here’s what he has to say.
“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.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Habakkuk knows God has a plan, even if he has to wait for it, God has a plan. So the prophet rejoices and praises God. Habakkuk has hope.
Isn’t that what we’re searching for ourselves? Aren’t we looking for hope? Might that be part of the reason we come to church every Sunday? We’re looking for hope!
What more hope do we have in knowing that the Saviour of the world has been born. And in this season of Advent we remember the difficult and miraculous circumstances of this birth which are the next steps of God’s plan to bring salvation to all people.
This part of the plan also involves great violence and pain as a great many children are killed in an effort to stop God’s plan. But even then, evil does not win. God’s plan just keeps on moving forward.
God’s plan always keeps moving forward. This is the hope of Advent. We know Jesus has been born, and yes that is a big part of the celebration we will have in just a few weeks. But Advent is also a time of remembering God’s plan is still unfolding. Even in the face of great odds where the church is but a shell of it’s former glory, God’s plan is still unfolding. Even in a world which seems to be full of evil deeds happening all over the place with people crying out for mercy, God’s plan is still unfolding.
Jesus is born. Jesus died. Jesus rose from the grave. And Jesus promises to come again. God’s plan is still unfolding. And we all have a part to play, when we place our trust in him, stand up in the face of evil, and rely on the hope of his promise, that even in our waiting, God’s plan is still unfolding.
Let us pray,
This season of waiting is hard for us at times. The death and destruction, the pain and the suffering, the evil which we see, it causes us to cry out for mercy as it breaks our hearts.
Even in the midst of these things, your Father, and our Father, we know he has a plan. So while we may have to wait, we know he has a plan.
Help us to put our trust in this plan. The plan God has for the world. The plan God has for our country. The plan God has for our town. The plan God has for this church. And, yes, even the plan God has for all of us as individuals who trust in him.
So Jesus, be with us in our waiting. Help us to hold onto our hope, as we follow you with all our lives.
You, who was, is, and will be again, the Saviour of our lives and our world. We pray in your holy name. Amen and amen.