Among the books you and I don't read to our families around a fireplace in December as a way of getting ready for Christmas is the three-chapter Old Testament book of Habakkuk. That's okay, because I would much rather sit with my children and watch Linus tell Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang what Christmas is all about than I would read them this book in which God tells Habakkuk that he's preparing a devastation of Judah so astounding that it wouldn't be believable it even if he were told.
Yet while Habakkuk will never make a popular Christmas children's book or TV special, it is fitting for Advent as we have been exploring it together. (This fact alone should let me know that I shouldn't expect this Advent series to ever turn into a bestselling book.) Particularly for this week, as we have explored ancient Israel's long period of waiting for the Messiah to come, I think it's helpful to listen to what Habakkuk had to say before we turn a corner into the final week of Advent.
Habakkuk's opening words characterize well the longing and waiting of Advent:
"O Lord, how long shall I cry to you for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save?" (1:2)
Habakkuk is a book for all of the times when God's people have exclaimed, "This just isn't right!" and pled with God to do something about the broken world around us. God responds to some of Habakkuk's questions, but doesn't fully engage his complaints. Habakkuk laments things he sees daily: oppression and violence, indifference to God's law, and how God is seemingly unresponsive in spite of them.
Yet Habakkuk waits:
"I will stand at my watch post and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint." (2:1)
Then, after a list of the kinds of things that made Habakkuk yearn for God's intervention, he concludes:
"But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!" (2:20)
As we bring to an end these three weeks of considering different aspects of waiting on God, it's appropriate for us to follow Habakkuk's example of how he (and surely many others in ancient Israel) waited on God: to lament over the abundance of brokenness in our world as it is, and then to realize that God is still not far off and to be quiet in the presence of the one who has promised us that he will indeed come and make all things new. If we can cultivate that sense of quietness in the midst of a swirling world around us, we will be ready to be attentive through next week's journey with those people in the biblical stories who were there to greet the Messiah. Silenced awe may be the best possible reaction once we finally arrive at the point of considering how a human baby could completely redefine what it means for God to be in his holy temple.
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary.