Habakkuk reads like any one of us was writing it.  Who hasn’t had a time when they have simply gone off on God, questioning Him and His decisions about this world, our lives, our families?  Who hasn’t gotten frustrated, angry, or even enraged at what seems to be injustice from God?  I know I have numerous times.

It always amazes me to see God’s patience with us in situations like this.  Whether it is Abraham bartering for Sodom, or Moses whining about his own inabilities to do what God asks, or Job questioning God’s actions, or Habakkuk yelling in rage at the Almighty, God never lashes out and never seems to lose His patience.  “Come, let us reason together,” seems to be God’s default go-to.  He answers our complaints, barters with us, and joins our debates.  And sure He always wins, but He always plays along.

When you get frustrated at God, remember it’s ok to cry out to Him.  Jesus’ own mother Mary and her entire people cried out to God so regularly that it became part of who they were.  Yet God not only didn’t lash out in His anger, but He made them part of His ultimate solution: Jesus.

Tonight we celebrate Christmas Eve, the night before Jesus’ birth.  And so we can remember that God is patient with us, that He understands us having been one of us, and that He answers our cries with the greatest solution ever: a baby in a manger.  A baby who will grow up to be a Savior on a cross, and then a Lord in Heaven.

Revelation has some deeply disturbing and frightening images.  Our enemies will be crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath, slaughtered in the last days, thrown into the lake of fire to burn for all eternity.  New readers are shocked at this given that we serve a God of mercy and grace, but, we say, God’s patience is limited and eventually there will be a reckoning.

But since we’ve been reading in the prophets of the Old Testament, we can pretty easily compare the two and notice a few things.  The Old Testament prophets used very similar language, if not worse, for their enemies.  Nahum today speaks of infants being dashed to pieces on the street corners of Nineveh, after all.  This was a very common writing style for it’s day, where one writes vengeance against one’s enemies, and that vengeance comes from God Himself.

This is not literal writing like we’re used to (the simplest form of writing, which may be why it is the most commonly read).  This is metaphorical, poetic literature and we have to read it as such.  Libraries have been written and months of debate have been had on the specific meanings of these passages, both Old Testament prophets and New Testament Revelation, with no agreed upon consensus in sight.  Metaphor and poetry are like that – open to numerous interpretations.

But metaphor doesn’t mean untrue.  In fact, often metaphor allows us to be more truthful than a literal retelling.    While the OT prophets announced a conquering hero, we got a baby in a manger.  They weren’t lying or wrong, but metaphorically speaking of His power and might in military terms.  So as we approach His second coming, how might we understand the writings we have about it, specifically Revelation?  What might this violent imagery mean in more literal terms?  Might Jesus’ second coming look a lot more like His first coming than we allow?

Revelation has some deeply disturbing and frightening images.  Our enemies will be crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath, slaughtered in the last days, thrown into the lake of fire to burn for all eternity.  New readers are shocked at this given that we serve a God of mercy and grace, but, we say, God’s patience is limited and eventually there will be a reckoning.

But since we’ve been reading in the prophets of the Old Testament, we can pretty easily compare the two and notice a few things.  The Old Testament prophets used very similar language, if not worse, for their enemies.  Nahum today speaks of infants being dashed to pieces on the street corners of Nineveh, after all.  This was a very common writing style for it’s day, where one writes vengeance against one’s enemies, and that vengeance comes from God Himself.

This is not literal writing like we’re used to (the simplest form of writing, which may be why it is the most commonly read).  This is metaphorical, poetic literature and we have to read it as such.  Libraries have been written and months of debate have been had on the specific meanings of these passages, both Old Testament prophets and New Testament Revelation, with no agreed upon consensus in sight.  Metaphor and poetry are like that – open to numerous interpretations.

But metaphor doesn’t mean untrue.  In fact, often metaphor allows us to be more truthful than a literal retelling.    While the OT prophets announced a conquering hero, we got a baby in a manger.  They weren’t lying or wrong, but metaphorically speaking of His power and might in military terms.  So as we approach His second coming, how might we understand the writings we have about it, specifically Revelation?  What might this violent imagery mean in more literal terms?  Might Jesus’ second coming look a lot more like His first coming than we allow?

“He has shown you, everyone, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

While this is just one sentence in the midst of a chapter very similar to it, we have pulled it out and held it up as a theme verse for the whole of scripture.  I myself have preached entire sermon series on these three ideas.  And it is not wrong to do so.  While context is key to every scripture, this one’s context reinforces the verse well.

Live justly:  In our interactions with the world around us, we must be just and seek justice for others.  One of the infuriating things in our society is the selfish aspect of our “protest for justice” mentality.  We demand justice for ourselves and those we like or agree with, while happily ignoring it for those we don’t like or disagree with.  We will march in protest against racism while simultaneously supporting racist groups financially.  We carry signs against global warming while driving a gas guzzler because it’s more hip, cheap, or easy.  God’s call here is not to demand justice for ourselves or our groups, but to provide justice for those we have been unjust toward.

Love mercy:  In our interactions with the world around us, we must love to show mercy to those who have wronged us.  This is the exact opposite of the first and it is hard to do.  To live life forgiving those who hurt us while living justly toward those we have hurt is a hard way to live.

Walk humbly with your God: This is the key to the first two.  The only way we can live life justly and mercifully is if we live humbly as well.  Humility is to put yourself aside, including your “rights” and your “deserves”.  When we put ourselves completely at God’s disposal, we can dispense with the battle for our rights.  We can live mercifully without fear of being taken advantage of.

Live justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God.  It’s not easy, but it is the best possible, least stressful, most restful way to live.

Join us on Christmas Eve as we hear the Story once and celebrate our Messiah’s birth.  Through candles and carols, stories and songs, we join together in community to worship Immanuel, God with us.  Our services are at 4pm and 10pm with childcare provided at both.

Every villain has an origin story.  And in scripture Satan seems to have at least two.  When we read the opening of the book of Job, Baalam’s story in Numbers 22, and even Jesus’ wilderness temptation, we find a Satan who works for God.  Satan, a name meaning simply, “Adversary”, needs God’s approval to mess with Job, and seems to even need God’s guidance in that direction.  For Baalam, he of the talking donkey, Satan is an “angel of the Lord” sent to kill Balaam for his upcoming cursing of God’s people.  And for Jesus, He is sent into the wilderness “by the Spirit of God” to be tempted, and then is tempted by Satan.  Sure looks “henchman-ish” to me.

But the more popular view of Satan, and I say that in the true meaning of “popular”, is that of God’s enemy.  We find this version in Genesis 3 when the serpent (who is not called Satan at any time in that story, by the way) tempts humans to sin.  We find him in the gospel accounts when we see Jesus pitted against Satan and his hordes.  And we find it today in Revelation when this “ancient enemy” stands against the heavenly host.

The important point in any Satanology is the overarching theme of both of these views.  Satan may be God’s enemy, but he is NOT His equal.  Whether a servant of the Most High, which is in keeping with most Old Testament theology, or an enemy of equal rank not with God, nor with Jesus, but with Michael, the general of the heavenly host (please note this is not a choir but an army!), Satan is so much less than God that he is not to be a terror for us.  In anything that happens in life, whether attributed to life circumstances, to bad luck, or to Satan himself, God is in control and God’s got this.  “Be not afraid,” as the angels always say.

 

Every villain has an origin story.  And in scripture Satan seems to have at least two.  When we read the opening of the book of Job, Baalam’s story in Numbers 22, and even Jesus’ wilderness temptation, we find a Satan who works for God.  Satan, a name meaning simply, “Adversary”, needs God’s approval to mess with Job, and seems to even need God’s guidance in that direction.  For Baalam, he of the talking donkey, Satan is an “angel of the Lord” sent to kill Balaam for his upcoming cursing of God’s people.  And for Jesus, He is sent into the wilderness “by the Spirit of God” to be tempted, and then is tempted by Satan.  Sure looks “henchman-ish” to me.

But the more popular view of Satan, and I say that in the true meaning of “popular”, is that of God’s enemy.  We find this version in Genesis 3 when the serpent (who is not called Satan at any time in that story, by the way) tempts humans to sin.  We find him in the gospel accounts when we see Jesus pitted against Satan and his hordes.  And we find it today in Revelation when this “ancient enemy” stands against the heavenly host.

The important point in any Satanology is the overarching theme of both of these views.  Satan may be God’s enemy, but he is NOT His equal.  Whether a servant of the Most High, which is in keeping with most Old Testament theology, or an enemy of equal rank not with God, nor with Jesus, but with Michael, the general of the heavenly host (please note this is not a choir but an army!), Satan is so much less than God that he is not to be a terror for us.  In anything that happens in life, whether attributed to life circumstances, to bad luck, or to Satan himself, God is in control and God’s got this.  “Be not afraid,” as the angels always say.

 

A friend who has lived decades in Mexico shared an interesting worldview he has noticed there.  The Mexican people hold civility in much higher regard that we in the United States do.  They want you to be pleased and content – this is hospitality in their eyes – and so when asked, they will give you the answer that will make you the most pleased and content.  This means that if you ask them directions to the nearest hotel, telling them that you have to get there quickly, they will give you directions with reassurance that you have plenty of time.  The problem is that they will do this even if they have no idea where the hotel is.  They will point you down the street and around the block, knowing that they calmed your frayed nerves.  And when you get there and find out your hotel is twice as far in the opposite direction, you may start this rigmarole all over again.

When people ask me questions, I too want to give them an answer they will like.  But my reasons are far more selfish – I want them to like me, to show my camaraderie, and to avoid their anger.  But this is a problem, for the work of the prophet, a work we are all called to as the “priesthood of all believers” is seldom to bring good news.  We have to bear truth even if it makes someone uncomfortable or even angry.  And so we learn, and grow, and age into these encounters lovingly.

Whether Micah or the prophets of Revelation, we have to be prepared for a harsh if not deadly reception when we bring God’s message.  Joy and hope and love and peace are all good and true, but God’s message is also Repent and confess and change and grow, and these messages may well be met with unease, anger, or even violence.  “Blessed are you when people hate you for my sake, for so they treated the prophets of old.”

Ah, Jonah, one of my favorite stories.  It reminds me every time I read it that no matter who we are or what we do for God, there is always room for a really selfishly sinful reaction at the end.

Jonah was a prophet, not because he’s ever called one in this story – he’s not – but because you’re a prophet if you bring a message from God to the people.  And this is exactly what Jonah is called on to do.  And he fails about as badly as you possibly can.  After nearly killing a boatload of men, he is nearly drowned and then nearly eaten by a giant fish (cue Jaws music now).  He repents (who wouldn’t inside a giant fish? (cue Jaws music now)) and agrees to take on the task.  Again, who wouldn’t when the alternative is, well, all of that?

He goes to Nineveh in fear and trepidation, travels nearly half way into the city, and proclaims their doom.  They IMMEDIATELY repent as completely as possible (even the animals are forced to a position of repentance) and are spared.  Get that?  Jonah takes a boat ride, a typhoon, a near drowning, a giant fish (cue Jaws music now) and a projectile vomiting (and you thought being the vomit-er was bad?  try being the vomit!) before he repented.  The Ninevites, sworn enemies of all things God, take one word from a foreigner they’ve never met before.

And then, AND THEN, Jonah is angry!  “How dare you be YOU, God!  I knew You would forgive them and that’s why I wouldn’t go.  See?  I was right!”  Jerk.

Jonah is certainly not the hero of his own story.  But neither are the Ninevites.  Nor the sailors, nor the plant, nor the sackcloth-covered animals.  If there’s a hero to this story, it has to be God.  And that’s just how it should be.

Unless it’s the fish (cue Jaws music now).

In 597 B.C., Edom helped the Babylonians to sack Jerusalem and carry off their wealth and people.  Though Edom was a vassal state to Jerusalem, they were all too happy to gain favor with the all-powerful Babylonian Empire by opening the way to Jerusalem.

Founded by Esau, Jacob’s brother from the Genesis account, Edom was a nation who dwelt in the mountains.  This elevation gave them a good defensive position, but they were still too small to be a military threat.  This was why they had existed in Israel’s shadow and why they needed Babylon’s good will.

Obadiah, however, proclaims God’s wrath against Israel’s enemies, and specifically against Edom.  Likening them to eagles in their nests, still God will bring them down and make them nothing, Obadiah proclaims.  Calling them Jacob’s brother, as their founder literally was, he proclaims shame for abandoning him in his need.  And in verse after verse, he proclaims their immanent downfall.

It is hard for us today to read the prophets with all of the doom and gloom.  We like hope, joy, and peace much more, and it takes some deep reading in the prophets to find any of these.  Though they often tell of a future hope, but only of return AFTER exile, of hope AFTER pain.  Yet with the balance between doom for Israel for their disobedience and doom for their enemies, the prophets do bring hope for God’s people.  Sometimes, you just have to dig deeper than our usual quick reading to find it.