This morning we begin the season of Advent. It’s now December and Christmas is coming at us like a freight train, or so it feels to me. December really shouldn’t be such a surprise but for some reason it seems like it kind of snuck up on me without warning. Sneaky approaches aside, it is only appropriate that we begin our Advent reflections with a prophetic commentary against violence, right? I almost think this would be a better text to have the Sunday before Black Friday as a reminder of what not to do for those amazing doorbuster bargains.
In truth, Habakkuk’s words to us are indeed a prophetic commentary against violence and they’re also a prophetic word of hope that violence will not have the last word. The prophet is letting the people around him know that violence is not God’s idea or desire. The Old Testament in particular has a fair amount of violence and war. God gets blamed for a lot of that violence in the world when in reality it is humans that have taken it upon themselves to enact a lot of violence and then claim to do it in the name of God.
Europe spent a couple of centuries having wars between Catholics and Protestants. Saying it was entirely about religion is an oversimplification but the sides really were divided on theological lines. I like the study of history and I’m still horrified when I learn more about wars between Christians and during those wars the actions men took against other people. I won’t go into deep detail but suffice to say it wasn’t very Christ-like. But it was seen as okay because these atrocities were committed in the name of religious certainty, a certainty that God wanted them to do it. They were on God’s side and so it would be okay!
It would appear that historically the biggest problem with humankind is our seemingly never ceasing desire for more. More. More. More. In particular more land, more control, more power. That was a big part of the religious wars in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. There is no doubt that was a root cause factor on many fronts in WWII, leading the 20th century to be one of the most violent in history. It is probably true that most wars have at their root a desire for more of something. This is also not particularly Christ-like.
Perhaps we learned something from the violence of the 20th century and the conflicts of previous centuries? The truth is that all in all global conflicts and deaths by violence are way down today from even 30 years ago. We hear about every violent incident in microscopic detail but the reality is filled with hope overall. When we hear Habakkuk lament, “2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” we can in good faith make the claim that God has heard our cries and people are listening to God more than they have previously. Violence is not the chosen means to achieve goals.
I know it doesn’t seem like it but here’s the thing. We see every little bit of conflict worldwide in our never ending and non-stop 24×7 newsfeeds. That doesn’t make the violence any less real nor is it a good thing. It just means we see a lot more of well, everything, than at anytime before in history. Fifty years ago you had a daily newspaper, a couple of monthly magazines and 30 minutes on the 6 and 10 o’clock news to get all of your news information. TV stations gave us news as a public service and a loss leader, not as a profit center. Now? I can look up more headlines in 30 seconds than could be broadcast in a week back then. If we see an accounting of every act of violence stacked up back to back, day in and day out, then things look pretty grim.
The reality actually is much better on any number of metrics. Violence, hunger, literacy, health. Worldwide all these things are statistically better than even 30 years ago. It’s better because people like us, followers of Christ, are doing what God calls us to do. Primarily here at Spirit of Hope we work at feeding hungry people but we’ve helped with literacy and reading at times. We do clothing and shoes so maybe that’s kind of working toward better health. Nearly 700 shoes this year and there’s a pile of donations in the conference room for the Barnabas Community.
These issues aren’t finished, either. There’s still work to be done. A lot of work to be done. There’s still hunger issues, health care challenges, and as long as there is one act of violence acted out on any person that’s one too many. But Habakkuk brings us a word of hope. A word of hope in God that has wanted us to put an end to hunger, an end to health care challenges, an end to violence.
That’s the story of Advent. Advent is about hope. A renewed hope as we are reminded once again that God reaches down into the depths of our despair and gives us a savior. A savior that gives us hope that whatever is going on in our lives, our struggles with finances, our struggles with jobs, our struggles with health challenges, our struggles with relationships, whatever struggle we are wrestling with, there is hope for a better tomorrow. If not tomorrow then maybe next week. Or next month. But there is hope.
This is Advent. A time of waiting. A time of reflection. A time of hope.