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Hurry Up and Wait

October 06, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament text, where Habakkuk writes, And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Coming apart at the seams. That’s probably the best way to describe the world in which Habakkuk inhabited and wrote his prophetic work. Josiah, one of the few righteous kings of Judah, had fallen, killed in combat by the Egyptian Pharaoh, Neco. The king’s youngest son, who had initially succeeded him, was deposed by Egypt and replaced with his second son, Jehoiakim, who was little more than an Egyptian puppet. This man … was a monster. He taxed the land heavily in order to pay homage to Egypt – and no doubt, line his own pockets, as well. Some traditions hold that Jehoiakim was a murderous brute controlled by his passions – having incestuous relations with the women in his family, killing the husbands of women he fancied, seizing the properties that he desired from his subjects. He was nothing like his righteous father, Josiah, and because of his godless rule, Judah (and Jerusalem in particular) became cesspools of corruption, crime, abuse, and wholesale sin. It appeared that every Judahite was living for himself, that he had forgotten his calling by YHWH their God to live as a people set apart, the people from whom the Messiah would come. They lived how they wanted and completely abandoned who they were called to be. That’s the broken world that Habakkuk lived in.

This prophecy of his reads less like other prophets like Isaiah or Amos, and more like the Book of Job, consisting of a series of complaints, God’s answers to those complaints, and ending with the prophet singing the praises of God’s good, albeit mysterious, ways. In our text, however, it sounds as though the prophet has reached his whit’s end. He’s surrounded by this whirlpool of sin that was once the city of peace, and worse, as a prophet, he’s ostracized by the authorities because he dares to call them to repentance. We don’t know what exactly Habakkuk experienced, as any biographical information on the prophet is scant, but we hear his words, and we can see things didn’t go well for him during Jehoiakim’s reign: O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

There’s a lot going on here we don’t know about, but I think it was the waiting that Habakkuk found the most frustrating. He’s called upon the Lord in a day of trouble, and yet He seems distant, far-off, unsympathetic. The thought, no doubt, crossed his mind: “Doesn’t God care? We’re in agony down here!” How long, O Lord? How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?

Then something happens … Habakkuk seems to have a moment of clarity, recognizing in humility that God is God and he is not, as he says, I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. It is then that the Lord, God Almighty, answers the sorrowing prophet: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

It may have taken a few years of Jehoiakim’s corruption and smut in Jerusalem, but eventually Babylon swept over that wicked land. They were true to the description that God had given – they were strong, mighty, haughty, scoffing at kings and laughing at leaders. They slaughtered the strong, carted off the captives to Babylon, and left behind the weak and the sick to continue on in squalor and ruin. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

It may have taken a few decades, but eventually, the Persian king Cyrus swept in, and annihilated the Babylonians. Eventually, he issued a decree that the Jews could go back to Jerusalem. Many did, and many did not. Those who went back rebuilt the temple, resumed the sacrifices, and waited for the Day that the prophets had talked about, the Day the Messiah would come. … But that wasn’t the end of the story.

It may have taken several centuries before the words of the prophets (including Habakkuk) were fulfilled, but eventually, in God’s timing, a child was born to a virgin in David’s royal city of Bethlehem. That child grew into a man, one who taught publically new and radical things, who performed miracles and cast out demons. That miracle-performing Rabbi … was eventually arrested. He was beaten. He was tortured. In the ultimate mockery of justice, Jesus of Nazareth, who had done no sin, was condemned to death. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem, that former city of peace. Men and women scoffed at Him, while others wept and wailed, crying out, How long, O Lord? But Jesus waited, enduring the unimaginable pain and scorn until He breathed His last and gave up His Spirit. He endured the full rod of God’s divine punishment, and His body was laid in a newly-excavated tomb, offered up by a rich man. His tomb was sealed, and His disciples cowered behind closed doors, sure that they would be next. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

It may have taken three days, but on that Sunday morning, the tomb’s seal burst, and the rock that had been rolled in front of it was cast aside. The resurrected Jesus – the same one who had been laid in the tomb in death – was alive. In spite of His wounds, He was not dead anymore, and He would never die again. His Church was founded, proclaiming this good news of His death for sin and His resurrection as the firstfruit of the new creation, a fate that awaits us as well … but that wasn’t the end of the story.

The Church has, like Habakkuk, endured times of terrible trial and tribulation. There have been times that we have cried out, How long, O Lord? How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? The Church has groaned these words. You have groaned these words. In our day and age, there’s corruption aplenty throughout the governments of the world, including our own. We’ve got enemies, both domestic and foreign, who seek our utter destruction. We see wholesale sin on a daily basis and nary a head bowed down in prayer and repentance. We endure natural disasters that befall us, diseases that steal our loved ones away from us, abuse of the poor, crimes of the desperate and despicable. But it is not the end of the story!

As Habakkuk cries out, O Lord, how long, we understand his cry. But God’s answer to us is the same as it was for the prophet: still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. Jesus, who endured the cross for us, has promised this suffering will come to an end. He is making all things new. Though the time that we must wait may seem slow, we know that it will surely come; it will not delay. The Day of the Lord is coming, the end of the story of this broken world will merely be the start of a new one, and the righteous who had waited, who had lived by faith … will have their faith become sight.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.