Narrative Lectionary preachers, welcome to another Advent season without John the Baptist! Here is the Habakkuk selection for Advent 1: NRSV CEB

Habakkuk Basics[1]

  • 8th book of the 12 minor prophets
  • Only thing known about Habakkuk is that he is identified as a prophet in 1:1 and 3:1
  • Single subject: If God is the upholder of justice, why does injustice flourish?
  • Best guess for the date of writing comes from the mention of Chaldeans in 1:6
  • As Nebuchadnezzar is heading towards Judah, but before Jerusalem falls in 597
  • Of course, if you challenge the mention of the Chaldeans, it can be as early as Hezekiah (701 BCE) or as late as Alexander the Great (4th century BCE).
  • Setting: The Assyrians, who had ruled the Middle East for over a century, had been weakened by attacks of the Medes and the Chaldeans, the latter having become the ruling class in Babylon. In 612 Nineveh fell, and subsequently Pharaoh Necho moved north to hold back the advance of Nebuchadnezzar’s army by strengthening what was left of the Assyrian forces. He killed King Josiah of Judah at Megiddo on his way north in 609, and soon deposed Jeohaz, who had succeeded his father, replacing him with Jehoiakin (2 Kings 23: 34-24:6). After the Egyptians had been defeated at Carchemish in 605, Jehoiakim offered his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, but rebelled in 598, leading to the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and to his death. Both 2 Kings and the book of Jeremiah rate him as a poor ruler, so his reign may have produced the kinds of ills Habakkuk complains of in his first speech (see Jeremiah 22:18-23, 26:1-32)
  • Translation: There are several interpretations of 2:4a in different texts, but most of the issues of authorship revolve around chapter 3.
  • Paul quotes 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and 3:11
  • 2:3 is a key verse for some dealing with second coming of Christ.

Habakkuk (KJohnstonVersion)

Habakkuk, Chapter 1: YHWH! YHWH! YHWH!!!!

I yell for you outside the closed bathroom door, do you not listen? I cry out, “He hit me first!” but you don’t give anyone a time out. Why do you not care how I feel? Why do you see what has been done to me and do nothing? I am surrounded by people behaving badly. Justice has become warped.

YHWH: Stop your whining… I am about to blow. your. mind. Immagonna stir up the Playground Bullies – those people who put wet willies in your ear, who never take a bath, who come in and take all of the swings and the balls for their own. Those people work for Me now – check it out!

Habakkuk: Ummm…. Don’t let us die. Perhaps you cannot see just how bad those bullies are? You only see the good so you can’t see how they trample over us, how they gather us all up in one corner of the gym and barrage us with dodgeballs, then they gather them up in those big net bags and worship them.

(Chapter 2) I’m going to hang out here until you give me the answer I’m looking for.

YHWH: Write this down in really big letters so even the last one running in a game of freeze tag can read it: I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing – in your mind it may be running late… wait for it.

In the meantime, pace yourself with the Kool-aid, stop trying to be so much better than everyone else, quit playing strip poker, and beware of the bloodshed. Stop worshiping things covered in gold and silver – the Lord is in the holy temple. Shhhh…..shut your mouth.

Habakkuk, Chapter 3: Look YHWH, I stole this Psalm for you… I have seen how awesome you are, Your power has given us countless snow days, and rained out a vast amount of baseball games. I’ll keep hanging out here waiting for the Bullies to face your come-uppance. I’m looking around and we ain’t got nothin’… but Immagonna rejoice in the Lord anyway. He will let me win the school’s 50 yard dash. He will let me walk on the high bar.

And now…we preach it.

There is certainly an angle here about waiting for the right things and the sense of urgency we can have at this time of year (meaning Christmas sales time). ‘Wait for it’ fits into the Advent theme. There were those last year who didn’t like the prophets coming up during Advent, but I thought it was the perfect placement for them and I was beyond happy not to preach on John the Baptist.

One of the great things about working through the Narrative Lectionary last year was that I was able to get a better ‘feel’ for the rhythm of history and its impact on God’s people.  The text selected by the good folks at Working Preacher (and the RCL for that matter) leaves out a really important part of Habakkuk. The prophet cries out to YHWH in complaint and YHWH responds by saying (paraphrase): “I know this is going to come as a complete surprise, but I’m going to use the Chaldeans to bring about justice.” Then YHWH describes just how awful the Chaldeans are to which the prophet responds by saying: “Don’t let us die.” (2:5-12)

Faith in God doesn’t come easy to the prophet Habakkuk. Eventually he comes to the same conclusion as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that the oppressed will be delivered, but he is not quite as relaxed in that truth as those two. Instead we seem to have a prophet who is desperately struggling to hold onto his faith.

Even if we have not personally had experience with a betrayal by Lando Chaldean, we know what it’s like to have to trust in God’s plan when it seems the wicked are winning. Is God really in that?

Aaron Maurice Sari is the author of The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide[2].

In a UCC StillSpeaking Daily Devotional last spring, he wrote:

When my brother died, I was an atheist. A profound encounter with God at the lowest point in my life led to my conversion and, eventually, my being ordained in the UCC.

Sometimes God works in ways so shocking, so beyond our understanding, that we don’t know what to do. If we don’t allow ourselves to be shocked, we probably aren’t entering fully enough into the mystery.[3]

God works in mysterious ways… violent ways? Shocking ways?

Season’s Greetings: Police officers in armored vehicles stand guard in front of the Ferguson police department on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP
Season’s Greetings: Police officers in armored vehicles stand guard in front of the Ferguson police department on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

I’m not sure any of this qualifies as a word of hope today (and maybe that’s the Advent candle you will be lighting) in the wake of last night’s announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. It’s one thing to call a news event a wake-up call and quite another to know personally the beloved child of God whose life ended in sudden violence.

Last year in an eight degree wind chill the school bus was late. Kindergartners and elementary school kids were bracing against the wind while parents did their best to keep reassuring looks on their faces. One by one the parents turned their backs to the wind and placed their children in front of them. And then without any out loud coordination, we pulled together so that we formed a human barricade against the harsh, cruel winter.

Scripture assures us that the Lord will respond – There is still a vision for the appointed time; it testifies to the end; it does not deceive…it is surely coming; it will not be latewait for it.

And let us add… don’t wait alone.

Where are you headed with this text? Please add your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, we thank our friends at Working Preacher for their resources and for the Narrative Lectionary itself, challenging preachers to reconsider the texts of our faith and the seasons of church life by digging deeper into the Bible.

***

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Volume 2: D-H (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), pages 705-509.
[2] This is not a recommendation. I haven’t read it yet.
[3] http://act.ucc.org/site/MessageViewer/?dlv_id=84881&em_id=61641.0

7 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Wait for it (Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19)

  1. My early thoughts for the week are here:
    http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2014/11/looking-forward-to-november-30-2014-1st.html

    I am pretty sure I have never preached on Habakkuk (I am not sure I have READ Habakkuk) before. But I find this a powerful passage to talk about the context in which we wait for God to break into and transform the world again–preferably soon.

    As it happens this Sunday we are singing my favourite Advent hymns, Tomorrow Christ is coming (lyrics here: http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2014/11/looking-forward-to-november-30-2014-1st.html). I have always found this hymn is a starkly honest way to approach the present and the hope of Christmas. Much more so than singing Joy to the World at times. In light of the Ferguson decision and ebola and missing/murdered indigenous women in Canada i think we need to remind ourselves of these words…we are not singing it until the end of the service but they will make it into the sermon.

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  2. at first I thought I was sad to not be preaching JtB… because – hey its Advent Sunday!
    Then I thought – wow!! No more Johnny boy wandering in the desert with his honey and locusts thing gong on! Yay!
    Then I read Hab and it blew my mind: I write for Spill the Beans, so had kind of looked at it, but weeks and weeks ago and a whole lot of stuff happened in the meantime.
    Then I remembered!
    Yeah – time…. that’s the over arching theme in StB for Advent – we called this one Time for Vision – and was there ever a time to wait for vision; to hope for vision; to seek vision more than today?

    I blogged my mid-week musing this morning – which is kind of Habakkuk and kind of Ferguson (*but from a long way over) and kind of – look guys – the wolrd doesn’t get it right; didn’t get it right; won’t get it right – but that’s alright!

    Keep going in spite of it all
    just keep going
    God has this
    remember: God has us, and this, and them, and every other thing in between….

    (and as a TOTAL aside – Kathryn, what on earth does “wet willies in your ear ” mean? Cos where I come from its….. not an image I’m happy to share! 😉 )

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  3. I’ve had a plan in mind for months for a Service of Prayer, (not a prayer service) and in September when pastor and I did our long-range planning, we chose this Sunday ’cause nothing else was going on…God is good.

    And then, Ferguson. The lack of indictment has people confused and upset, and so, I’m will be juxtaposing Hands Up – Don’t Shoot, with hands up in praise. I’ve been wanting to demonstrate various prayer poses, kneeling, prostrate, standing, hands up…and yes, that’s where I’m going to take the message this week. It will be raw and harsh, and my stomach already feels sick. I’m truly not sure if I have the guts for making this service what I visualize it to be.

    From a singing bowl as our Centering Prayer, to kneeling during the Prayer of Confession (me, not them necessarily. if they do, great, but I doubt it) to having a drum beat during the shared Prayers of the People, to demonstrating standing with hands raised for a Praise song, it should be a very strange service for our staid, Northwest USA folks. But I feel very strongly about this…I can’t get it off my mind.

    Pastor and I have planned as much of it as we can, and she is leading from behind and letting me set the tone (which she is fully encouraging me to do) but I am fearful that all the faces will be hard, as will the hearts.

    Prayers appreciated. And I’ll be following this post for help with content for my homily. It’ll be necessarily short, as Pastor and I will both be sharing short explanations of the “why” behind each prayer pose/section of the liturgy. (A lot of our folks really don’t know the why…)

    Blessings on my sisters as we all seek to preach what God has put in our hearts. God be with us all.

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