Is It Time Yet? Waiting for Hope
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:[3b-6] 17-19
Today, millions of people all around the world are waking up to face the day with hushed anticipation and expectation.
Some are staying up late into the evening, and others are rising in the wee hours of the morn.
All are gathered in front of flickering lights, poised on the edge of their seats, living moment to moment, prepared for something remarkable, something special to unfold right in front of their eyes. Many are prepared to shout in victory, clasping hands of their neighbors, embracing strangers, and celebrating a moment they have been waiting for with baited breath. Some are singing familiar tunes and chanting, compelling the impossible to made real.
Now, of course, I am not talking about Advent, our 40 day season of waiting and anticipation for the coming of Christ – no, I’m talking about the World Cup, the biggest, grandest sports event that captivates the sports world every four years.
Your pastor has been one of those rising up early, not to begin my Advent prayers but to check the latest scores from early morning’s first games and refreshing my phone wherever I am to see the latest bits of controversy, drama, and excitement. Just last week, I grabbed a seat at Franklin’s Restaurant here in Hyattsville and, without even knowing the names of the people around me, suddenly became part of a tight knight family, groaning at every missed pass, praying to God with the depths of my soul, and cheering when Tim Weah slotted home a beautiful goal to put the US ahead.
The World Cup is the largest sports event in the globe, when countries send their best athletes to face in a drama requiring skill, courage, and tactical acumen, when the viewership dwarfs that of the SuperBowl, when people whose nations did not even make it follow every gripping moment – and it is a time when a huge portion of the world hopes with expectation for their nation to do the unthinkable and win the whole darn thing.
On this first Sunday of Advent, then, I invite us to think about our Advent journey – and what it might look like if we began with the same passion and expectation as soccer fans are experiencing right now? What if we practiced an active hope of our own, chanting and singing, sitting at the edges of our seat, and watched and waited for God to do the impossible in our midst? How might we live?
In our scripture today, we hear the words of the Prophet Habakkuk. We don’t know much about the person behind the words, but it is believed he delivered his oracles and visions at a time when people were unsure about God’s righteousness. It was a time of injustice – a time when hope seemed a privilege – when faith seemed ill-suited to a world of war and judgment and violence.
In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks questions of God. You can hear him wailing, crying out, asking God, “Is it time yet?”
He says, “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”
The prophet here speaks for all of us who see a world around us in disarray. Advent, though our culture may suggest otherwise with silly holiday music, photos with Santa, and shopping sales everywhere we turn, is a perfect time for us to ask hard questions of God. Advent approaches the longest night of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Light dwindles around us. The chill begins to sap at our bones. We see the shootings that take the lives of Wal-Mart employees, LGBTQ+ neighbors, college students, and innocents on our city streets. Even in the backdrop of a World Cup which has sometimes forget about the war in Ukraine, we are reminded of the migrant works mistreated and abused in the building of palace-like stadiums. We grieve alongside numerous families the loss of our loved ones who will not share the festivities with them. And we say with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” How long until justice comes? How long until we can peak at a better future as a people?
It is as if Habakkuk, venting and groaning, asks what we are asking this Advent – “Is it time yet?” Is it time for God to show up?
At the beginning of Chapter Two, the prophet climbs to the top of a watchtower, promising to wait, actively and in anticipation, long into the night, early in the morning for God’s reply. What an image for our Advent together, isn’t it? The prophet sitting up and listening, asking – “Is it time yet?”
God does not keep Habakkuk waiting, responding by saying:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
God speaks a proclamation of hope. God isn’t done, and it is time. Or just about time. God’s vision is on the way. And while it might not arrive on two day free shipping like Amazon does, the Creator calls on the prophet and his people to wait for it – wait for what will come.
Here is our model too – for what Advent can be – especially in a world marked by suffering and despair.
The prophet exhibits faithfulness in a world gone awry. Habakkuk will wait – will continue to watch – for the movement of God, trusting that God’s vision is on the way, even if the harvest hasn’t arrived yet. Even in the midst of hunger and despair and barren fields and confusion. The prophet says this with a simple prayer of affirmation that might be our prayer in this Advent season:
God, the Lord, is my strength
The prophet will hope, despite all of the odds, despite what the pundits may say – hope for the impossible, home for the improbable, hope for the unthinkable.
This is a prophetic hope – the kind of hope that has marked Christians through generations, even stubbornly when the world around us wants us to be weighted down by cynicism. It’s why, even as our lives in a local congregation change, as we experience transitions – we continue to hope, continue to look ahead, continue to watch in expectation for what God has yet to do.
Habakkuk in a way models for us the reality that hope is active – hope is not a passive reality. As followers of Jesus, as those deepening our connection with God, our faith is a way of life for us to navigate this world, to make sense of what we experience, and to continue to trust that more is on the way. We believe that the unthinkable, something greater than a mere winning goal in the World Cup, might be right around the corner in fragmented communities and lives like our own.
Just as the prophet did, we are to climb to our watchtowers and look with expectation for what God is about to do and say in our lives and in this world. We are to rise early in the morning and stay up late into the night, refreshing our screens, singing our songs, and living at the edge of our seats.
For Advent is a story of the greatest upset of all – of a God who would not stay distant from us but step into our lives and into our world to deliver us from the violence and pain that holds us captive.
How then might we live into an active hope in this season?
At the beginning of our service, we did invite you to be aware of some special resources made available to you – a devotional booklet with prayers and readings, study groups on Sunday morning and Thursday evening to gather with others and listen and act, and activities for children. That may be a place to start.
Or it may be that you have a question for God. Perhaps these next 40 days is a time for you to take a real risk. Write down that prayer on an index card. And wait and see if God answers your question.
Sarah Augustine writes in her book about her first trip as an indigenous woman to visit indigenous communities down in South and Central America, communities that were being pushed off their ancestral lands in favor of mining companies and international deals that left them without rights and well-being. These communities, though up against odds that seemed insurmountable, organized and began to fought, using all the tools they could muster to protect the place they called home.
Sarah visited with them, and in one meeting with elders, as they shared stories and listened, one of the eldest women turned to her and asked, “Why have you come here?”
Sarah was caught off guard by the message – and she started to mumble a response about learning and listening.
And the elder asked again, cutting her off. “No, why have you come here?”
And Sarah said she felt a call from God in that moment, that those who were waiting on the edge of their seats for justice to be done, were tired of those who came to listen. They were ready for those who came to live an active hope, who wanted to climb the watchtowers and cry out to God, and then work and look for the world we wished it could become. Sarah began a relationship that day, as a lawyer, to help those people fight – with hope – for the restoration of their land and their dignity.
Today, millions of people have risen with hushed anticipation and expectation – not just for soccer – but for how this world might be. May we sing and shout louder than a soccer match. May our prayers lift to the heavens. May we move in action to care for those who are working for hope right here and now. Is it time yet?
Know, beloved ones, it is – hope is on the way! Thanks be to God!