O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
I will stand at my watch-post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the Lord answered me and said: 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.
—Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-3
This Advent and Christmas even as we welcome the Good News of Jesus Christ and Emmanuel, God with Us, the bad news just keeps coming. We would be betraying those who suffer, are oppressed, dying, rising up, demanding justice, reaching out, caring, and building stronger community if we did not confront the truth of our situation.
Mourning, lament, protest, and deep fatigue join us with the prophet Habakkuk in both spiritual and material desperation as the COVID-19 pandemic has served an “apocalyptic” purpose in the New Testament sense: To expose, reveal, unveil. The death-dealing crises facing people and planet before COVID-19 persist and are getting worse.
How could we not bend and fold in bone-shattering weariness and yell with Habakkuk, “Violence! Will you not save us?”
Contrary to an easy set piece answer about “waiting patiently for God’s answer” or Advent as an anticipation of the Good News which is definitely going to arrive on the 24th of December without fail, both Habakkuk and John’s Gospel bend into the reality of current suffering and let the enormity set in. They embrace waiting not as simple, passive biding of time but actively, arduously, and alertly watching, detecting, and discerning how God is acting and answering from and within the pain and suffering. Advent is a collective time of alert discernment. It is the “watchtower” of collective suffering, from the margins of power and privilege that the vision is made plain.
As a global koinonia we meet Christmas 2020 exhausted, but true to the deep moving of the Spirit the struggles of this past year and the burden of grief and the uprising of resistance to racism and authoritarianisms and ecological, economic, and gender injustice has become for our worldwide family a watchtower of discernment. We are gifted to read the signs of the time from the places in which we are, to actively receive the plain vision of God in our midst, mobilizing us for life, justice, and peace, detectable through the eyes of the dispossessed. We have met and will continue to meet virtually to uphold each other in prayer and to discern, confess, and witness together, to actively seek to incarnate an answer to the question: What does God require of us in times of COVID-19 and beyond?
There is a vision, says Habakkuk, for an appointed time—a time of global oppression and global disaster. And it speaks of the end. No, not the end of the world, not the end of all history. But in the words of Pablo Richard, a Chilean Liberation theologian, an end to the history of oppression—a desired, God-driven end to this unjust world order.
And it requires us to embrace the advent of watchful discernment, to see the stirrings of that life-giving Word, incarnate in the poor, powerless, landless, despised, dispossessed, the refugee, the abused, the women—and to make plain the vision and to embrace it.
From that watchtower built from weariness, uprising, and struggle we are called, led, and nurtured into the discernment that “what has come into being was life and life was the light of all people” and that from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.
That grace is seen in the faithful witness of our global family, in the leadership of our Executive Committee, officers, and president. In all those who cry out for change and rise up for justice—all who reach out to serve.
The free, unencumbered grace to faithfully discern the stirrings of life in the face of it all to join as a global family in Jesus Christ and defend, protect, and nurture the vision of abundant life or empowered by the good news…not that it is all behind us, but that God has pitched God’s tent among us, and the vision of an end to this story of injustice is for this appointed time does speak of an end, and, no, it does not lie.
In the words of a New Creed of the United Church of Canada: “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.”
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Chris Ferguson