Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2: 2-4; 3:3b-6; 17-19
November 27, 2022
A week or so ago, I went to an ATM downtown after a Sunday service and was greeted inside the bank’s entrance by a woman asking for some change to buy a coffee.
This … I am sure … is a pretty common occurrence in the downtown.
From the woman’s appearance … unwashed and with blackened teeth … and by the way her hand shook, I am sure she could have used more than a coffee.
On my way past her, I let her know that after I was done at the ATM, I would bring her some change from my car.
I was punching in some numbers at the ATM, when there was yelling behind me.
The man was yelling at the woman for having the audacity of asking for change. He towered over thin woman sitting on the floor … yelling that he wasn’t going to fund her drug habit.
In a bit of pastoral passive-aggressiveness … I finished up at the machine, pulled $5 from my wallet and … on the way out … I stopped by the pair … and gave the woman the bill.
The man looked like he was about to give me a lecture … until he saw my tab collar. He grumbled something about a blankety-blank liberal and went to the now free ATM.
Since that time, I have wondered how many times that has happened to that woman or to others who are in similar circumstances.
I wonder how many people pass them by … immune to the sight because poverty … hunger … and addiction have become part of the landscape … how many people just accept this as part of life in a violent and unfair world.
I wonder if they feel any sense of hope.
It’s easy to become immune to violence and hatred when we are confronted with such overwhelming images as part of everyday life.
Like today’s passage from Habakkuk, we seem to live in a world filled with violence … a time marked with darkness … uncertainty … fear … and sadness.
In Habakkuk’s world, the Babylonian army is all around … it had destroyed city after city in Judah … killing people along the way. Sometime after this book was written, the Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem three times and took the people into exile.
In this passage, the prophet knows that the old way will soon fall away … and maybe that’s for the best.
The people haven’t lived into their part of being a covenantal people … they have been like a fig tree that hasn’t borne fruit year after year.
In among all this violence … during this dark time, Habakkuk asks the question that a lot of us ask when we despair… “How long?” … “How long must we wait?”
Implied Habakkuk’s and in our question is that God is failing to hear our laments … our prayers … our pleas … and failing to act.
Everywhere the prophet looks is emptiness … the world is so broken that justice and righteousness seem to be lost causes.
Habakkuk laments to God and gives voice to the people’s pain … to the people’s longing for peace and justice … for safety and security.
The people of Jerusalem and of Judah wait for deliverance from the violence in their lives … witnessing the righteous being overpowered and injustice fill the life of the community.
The people look for hope in the midst of the darkness.
God’s response to Habakkuk’s lament is for the people to wait … and in their waiting to have faith. And through their faith … they will be saved … in time … in God’s time.
God will not allow despair to have the final word.
Faith becomes an ongoing act of defiance for the people … an act that opposes the reality of the world that surrounds them.
God calls them to be faithful … and live a life where righteousness and justice are the marks of life.
By living such a life of faith, the people will be examples for others … and the violence and injustice present in the world will be overwhelmed
In their faith, hope is present.
Faith seems hard in today’s world…
When you hear verbal abuse over someone’s assumed addiction … when you see people scrounging for change to buy food … or struggling to find shelter or affordable housing … faith can be hard … hope can seem absent.
With all the violence … the suffering … the isolation and hate in today’s world, we are left to wonder if our faith is truly an act of defiance against the world’s values of a violent and exploitation?
What does our faith look like?
Is it a faith that carries hope within it?
At the end of today’s reading, there is a confession of faith … that even when the world around him does not offer new life … when promise seems absent … when there is only scarcity … Habakkuk will have faith in God and draw strength through that belief.
He will exult God… he will rejoice God.
The prophet will be relentlessly hopeful.
Centuries later, Martin Luther, in his doubts and fears that his faith wasn’t strong enough to be worthy of God’s love … came to the realization as he read Paul’s letter to the Romans … that we are justified by grace. That God’s ever-present unconditional love meant we were already saved … if we had faith.
Today, we are entering the Season of Advent… a season of promise … when we anticipate the blossoming of God’s love.
It is a time of hope … even as we wait for that light to come.
In the darkness of the season, we anticipate Jesus’ arrival in the life of the world … when we are longing for a different reality than the one we experience.
It’s a time when we can be like the fig tree that finally bears fruit … when hope is finally realized.
It’s a time when we are called to name the situations … to name the reality … of the world that places others in danger … that seeks to exclude … or that causes suffering.
We are called to name the situations that threaten to leave people in the cold darkness … when we are called to minister to the homeless person who can’t find shelter from the frigid night … or who braces against the cold wind as she asks for coins to find nourishment … or to embrace those whose orientation or whose history have made them feel like outcasts.
And by recognizing these circumstances, we are better able to offer a measure of hope.
Advent is a time when we … through sharing the gift we have received … can bring the warmth of the light into the lives of others.
Advent is when grace comes through into our lives and when we are called to engage the world through this grace.
It is a time when we are called to be relentlessly hopeful and hope-filled and defy the values of the world around us … by defiantly standing with those whose voices have been stilled by the darkness … and prepare hearts for the one who comes.