It is Advent. Maybe you, like me, are glad it is Advent. I’ve been listening to Christmas carols for a while now. Just the day after Thanksgiving was, families all over our neighborhood were out putting up lights and blow up snowmen and such - - even an oversized inflatable holiday Minion just a few houses down from us. The first Christmas card came. It is such a fun and fascinating time of the year. And I welcome it.
But I am also not quite ready for it. I always imagine Advent as being very ideal – magical, snowy, beautiful, full of divine and ah-ha moments of awesomeness about faith and life. But as welcome as it is, it is already not as ideal as I had hoped. There is little so far that is magical about it other than the lights in the neighborhood at night. There are still the same chores to be done, the same day to day non-Advent tasks to do. And except for the decorations, and the retail possibilities ahead, I don’t see Advent on the television; it is scarce in the news. It is hard to find a center for Advent. Hard to be prepared.
I want to have the feeling of a child sitting eagerly to hear a story. To be overwhelmed with good news and the space and time to take it in interrupted. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. But instead, I feel like I am driving a car and looking out the window at Advent, trying to take it, in while keeping my eyes on the road. And I know that if I cannot adjust myself, if I cannot stop and tend to this season of Advent, it will silently pass me by.
Stopping, or at least slowing ourselves for Advent is important. It brings messages and awareness that we need, not only for a full celebration of Christmas, but for our life and spiritual fullness and wellbeing. For a perspective that is faith-filled and tools and understandings that help us in times when things are hard. Advent is an investment in our spiritual journey, our faith development and our relationship with God and it is one worth making. But things are busy. And the world doesn’t notice Advent or frankly care much about it. We have to prioritize Advent, to carve out time with intention for it, to value its days and gifts for us so much that we will not let it pass without taking it in.
Advent is a gift to you, a God-gift. Be sure to open it!
During Advent we will be building on familiar themes – Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Our Bible study group is pursuing these themes. You will find them on the bulletin covers and in the liturgies for lighting the Advent candles. And as we explore these themes in scripture these Sundays, we will look at them through one bigger theme - - Jesus Christ as Light of the World and the Light that is the Life of the world. Jesus the Light who brings Life.
Today’s scripture from Daniel is such a fun and powerful one to begin with for Advent- - Daniel 3. There is so much on Daniel to learn and discuss and know. There isn’t time for extensive detail but this is a book that I would encourage you to look at and would welcome an opportunity to study in more detail if anyone is interested.
Our passage begins in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The book of Daniel brings legendary figures, real people, and historical events together with the intent of providing HOP and encouragement to people who were in a very difficult time and place. The hearers of this word faced much more than inconveniences. They lived very tentative lives. In this time it was against the law to worship The God of Israel. It was against the law to own a Torah. Believers might have food that they detested shoved down their throat, as a punishment or act of intimidation. It was against the law to circumcise babies and I will spare you the details, but say that there are horrific documented ends for newly circumcised babies and their mothers. This was a time when faith could bring death. It was a hard and frightening time.
And sometimes, sometimes in the midst of the hardest times some humor helps. Have you ever experienced a time like that? A time that was extremely difficult but in which humor was invaluable?
Daniel Chapter 3 is designed to be funny. It is full of satire. If you imagine it being read out loud in the midst of a persecuted bunch, it is easy to see how the humor would help. Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed as a bafoon of a leader - - narcissistic, material, disrespectful, and not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. And his requests are just as bafoony as he is.
At the end of Chapter 2, Daniel has risen to a position of authority and respect in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom much like Joseph. And he uses his position to ask that his three companions, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednago be put in positions of authority. And they are put into these positions and things seem to be fine and dandy until the start of Chapter 3. Here, Nebuchadnezzer builds a statue. A statue of himself that is ninety feet high (60 cubits at 1.5 feet per cubit) and nine feet wide (6 cubits). He covers it with gold or makes it of gold and then he sends for his leaders of all ranks and authorities across his kingdom and requires that at the sound of this little band, that everyone would fall down and worship this statute. Those who do not will be thrown into fire.
Some folks in the kingdom, notice that the three companions of Daniel are not falling to worship the statue at the appointed times. The three are brought to him and he demands that the worship at penalty of being thrown into the fire. But the three will not. They will not kneel before this idol. They will not worship a false God.
The words of the three are important here. Nebuchadnezzer taunts them about whether or not their God will save them. But for the three faithful, whether they are saved or not doesn’t matter. Their answer is the same. “ . . . be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” Live or die, either way the sentence is the same. We will not do it.
Well, this angers the king very much. So he again goes into acts of complete ridiculousness and orders the three to be burned. He orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than customary - - as if more fire is better than just fire. He orders the strongest of his guards to bind the three and throw them into the fire.
But he doesn’t get what he wants. In fact, he is surprised by what happens. Nebuchadnezzer’s strongest men are burned up into the fire he has heated so hot. And the three do not burn. Even more shocking is that they are joined in the furnace by a fourth heavenly figure! The king is overwhelmed. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednago are released from the furnace and Nebuchadnezzer acknowledged Almighty God!
Where is the Advent HOPE in this story? Do you find it? The three end up being delivered, but their willingness to go in the fire is not contingent on that. They go into the fire not to be saved from it but because they are not willing to violate who they are and what they believe. They are not willing to worship any other God.
We don’t live in an environment anything like the Jews for whom this book was written. There are people around the world who are in such times and situations and this book certainly has hope for them. But here in Bellbrook, we aren’t threatened with fire and flame. What is the Advent message of hope for us that Daniel brings? Our culture doesn’t always place an obvious statue out where we can see it and demand that we bow down, but our culture does constantly seek to pull us away from God, to get us to worship ourselves or someone else. To justify our actions or our words, or the actions or words of others. Both Daniel and the Gospel reading this morning show something about conforming to the powers that be - - the three young men and Jesus refuse, at risk of their own peril and death, they will not bow to anything or anyone other than Almighty God.
We’d be remiss if we did not get a pinch of conviction here. We all bow to things other than Almighty God by choice or convenience or because everyone else is. Daniel challenges us to think hard and long about who we worship, who we follow and why.
But as it challenges, it also provides great hope. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Why do I try to be a person of faith in a world that seems to be filled with folks who want nothing more than to build tall gold statues of themselves and have everyone else bow down. It’d be so much easier to just go the way of Nebuchadnezzar, wouldn’t it?
It might. It truly might. But it is not who we are. We are people of hope. The hope that Daniel presents to us is not a hope that is tied to an outcome. It is not a hope tied to our safety or our getting our way. But it is a hope that goes beyond us. It is a hope that God has this. We do the right thing, we bow to no one but Almighty God whether we live or die, suffer or not, because we live in the hope of God in Jesus Christ. The battle has already been one; God’s working out the rest in God’s time.
One of the commentaries that I read on Daniel summed it up powerfully as this: “Do not settle for the status quo. Do not settle for the world as it is being presented to us. Do not settle for the inevitability of what is said to be inevitable. We can hope for more than this; God will triumph. Because we believe this to be true and certain, we can live courageously now and move with courage into a better future.”
Advent largely is about choices. Of time and priority. Of preparedness and place. Will we tend to it? Will we invest in it? Will we share it with the world? We believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth. Our God is a God of hope who proclaims new life for us and for the world and calls us to tirelessly work for this Kingdom. For peace and justice and joy and love here in Bellbrook and in every crevice and community around the world.
Today brings an opportunity to dwell on the courageous words of the three young men. Be it known. Be it known. It matters not whether we live or die. We will worship only Almighty God because our hope is complete in Him. May your hope be complete in the Light of the world who brings Life to all people this day. All glory be to you, O Lord. Amen.