How long do we wait? Advent, advocacy and the message of Habbakuk

Based on the readings of the Narrative Lectionary for the First Sunday of Advent: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19; Matthew 26:36-38.

As Advent approaches this year, I’ve been spending some time with the prophet Habakkuk, crying out to God about the violence and injustice that fills the news and threaten to overwhelm.

Even when I’m not directly affected, there are times when I find it difficult to live in a world that feels so far removed from all that Advent promises. Where is the hope for South Sudan, the peace for those living in the Middle East, the joy for those living in grinding poverty, or the love for those isolated by physical illness or mental health concerns? With Habakkuk I want to know how long the suffering will continue and why God doesn’t intervene to set things right.

My soul yearns for a world of justice and peace.

CandleFortunately, Habakkuk is not just about complaints and despair. God does respond and as befits this season of Advent, the response is to wait. Habakkuk is given a vision of justice that he is told to make “plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it,” but he’s also told, “the revelation waits for an appointed time.”

Justice will come in God’s time, so for now just wait.

But what does it mean to wait? Are we just to sit and watch? Do we simply accept the established norms of society and the injustices around us? We have a hope for the future, both in Habakkuk’s vision and the coming of Christ, but many are desperate for that future now.  So we continue the cry of “how long?”

While Habakkuk begins with an anguished cry and complaint, he concludes with a prayer, the end of which is a call to faith. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and 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” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

No matter the dire circumstances, rejoice in the Lord. For Habakkuk the answer to “how long” was to have faith in God. Not an easy answer for those suffering injustice.

The last passage of the narrative Lectionary for this first Sunday of Advent is Matthew 26:36-38 in which Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. It feels more like a passage for Lent than Advent, but the theme of waiting appears here, too. There is no mention of rejoicing in these few verses, though. In fact, we are told Jesus is grieved and agitated as he waits to be arrested and to be killed. Yet Jesus chooses to spend this time of waiting in prayer with his disciples close by.

We don’t wait alone. We wait together, sharing our grief, agitation, and frustration with each other and with God.

Growing green sprout in asphaltWaiting is definitely a part of advocacy. There is the wait for problems to be recognized, for people to take action, for policies or regulations to change, or sometimes even for governments to change. Sometimes the waiting may be very long and may involve times of just watching and being a witness.  But eventually the opportunity to speak or act does come. We may need to repeat the message many times before key people hear it, and many times more before anything actually changes. But with faith that God is bringing justice — and prayer to sustain that faith — we know the waiting will eventually end.

Whether we are waiting to celebrate the beginning of something wonderful or waiting for something terrible to end, we’ve been given a vision and a promise that a better world is coming. Habakkuk was told to make that vision public by writing it down for others to see.

Perhaps we are called to share that vision as well, by living obedient lives, by following Christ’s example, and being witnesses and advocates, so that — instead of asking “how long?” — we can ask,“what can we do while we wait?”

Monica Scheifele is program assistant for the Ottawa Office.

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