Sunday’s Sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Danger and Fear

Text used – Daniel 6:6-27

  • There have been a lot of words used to describe this year that we’ve had – this year, 2020, that is swiftly coming to a close. To be frank, a lot of those are words that I’m not going to repeat in the middle of a worship service! Suffice to say that many of the words that I’ve heard used to describe this year have been less than complimentary. Because I think we can all agree that it’s been a rough year on so many different fronts.
    • Year full of …
      • Isolation and loneliness
      • Frustration and uneasiness
      • Injustice and unrest
      • Loss and grief
      • Danger and fear
    • I think it’s safe to say there’s never been a year like this one. I know the word has been tossed around a lot, but between the pandemic, the protests, and the election (just to name the top 3 stressors of this year), 2020 has truly been an unprecedented year. It’s been a rock-and-a-hard-place kind of year. And yet today we enter into the season of Advent – a time of waiting for the birth of peace … and salvation … and love the encompasses all. A time when we’re waiting for the birth of an unexpected and unprecedented child into circumstances that are far from perfect and pristine. Because we know – we believe! – that even though the odds weren’t good and the world wasn’t untarnished and humanity wasn’t really ready, it happened anyway. The Star of Bethlehem shone. The angels sang. The shepherds rushed to the stable. And the Christ child was born – born to bring us God’s love wrapped in flesh and bone, in swaddling clothes and stray bits of straw. It happened anyway. Christ was born anyway. God came to dwell among us anyway … not even in spite of the fear and danger, the failings of humanity, the things that hold us back, the broken dreams, and the active “no”s … not in spite of all those things, but because of them, Love happened anyway. Grace happened anyway. God happened anyway. And it is to that reality that we will cling during this crazy, backwards, isolated Advent season. It. Happened. Anyway.
      • Advent sermon series → walk through our Scripture readings – familiar stories and the ancient words of prophets still speaking to us today – with this theme in mind: Against all odds … in the face of struggles and strife … despite hurdles and heartbreak … the Christ-child was born.
  • Starting point = probably an unexpected story → not one we generally think of as an “Advent text”: the story of Daniel in the lions’ den
    • Background for Daniel
      • BOOK of Daniel = basically divided into 2 parts
        • Back half – chs. 7-12 = what we call “apocalyptic literature”: visions, interpretations, prayers, and prophecies having to do with the greatness of God, the end of days, and retribution for the wicked
        • First half – chs. 1-6 = stories that introduce us to who Daniel the prophet was – a mouthpiece for God among the community of diasporic Israelites who had been removed from Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered the city in 587 BCE
          • Told this at the beginning of the book of Daniel: In the third year of the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and attacked it. … Nebuchadnezzar instructed his highest official Ashpenaz to choose royal descendants and members of the ruling class from the Israelites – good-looking young men without defects, skilled in all wisdom, possessing knowledge, conversant with learning, and capable of serving in the king’s palace. Ashpenaz was to teach them the Chaldean language and its literature. The king assigned these young men daily allotments from his own food and from the royal wine. Ashpenaz was to teach them for three years to that at the end of that time they could serve before the king. Among these young men from the Judeans were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.[1] → So Daniel was one of those exiled Israelites who, in addition to being dragged from his home and possibly his family and everything that he knew, was also hand-picked by the king’s officials to serve in the Babylonian court.
    • So basically, Daniel has been hand-picked to be smart, good-looking, and above all, subservient. He is supposed to amuse the king. He is supposed to keep the king happy and entertained. He may even have chances to assist or advise the king on particular matters. But only so long as he remains in the king’s favor.
      • Similar to appointments in our own government: many people in their positions “serve at the pleasure of the president”
    • 1st rule of surviving in a forced position in a foreign, conquering court = don’t anger or offend the king (obvious)
    • 2nd rule of surviving in said court = don’t anger or offend your rivals → This is the rule that Daniel missed. Daniel is, indeed, intelligent and capable, just as he was chosen to be. And like his ancestor Joseph before him, he is also an interpreter of dreams (with God’s help, of course).
      • Previous chapters of book of Daniel → he interprets many dreams for one Babylonian king after another which earns him great favor and praise → so much favor and praise that he begins to overshadow all others – text just prior to what we read this morning: Darius [the current king] decided to appoint one hundred twenty chief administrators throughout the kingdom, and to set over them three main officers to whom they would report so that the king wouldn’t have to be bothered with too much. One of these main officers was Daniel. Because of is extraordinary spirit, Daniel soon surpassed the other officers and the chief administrators – so much so that the king had plans to set him over the entire kingdom. As a result, the other officers and the chief administrators tried to find some problem with Daniel’s work for the kingdom. But they couldn’t find any problem or corruption at all because Daniel was trustworthy. He wasn’t guilty of any negligence or corruption. So these men said, “We won’t find any fault in Daniel, unless we can find something to use against him from his religious practice.”[2]
    • And so we come to today’s passage: other officers and chief administrators trick the king into signing a law specifically crafted to target Daniel and his religious practice: prayer to God → law makes it illegal to worship anyone but the king himself → other officers and chief administrators catch Daniel in the act of praying to God → haul Daniel before the king, eager to see their rival punished to the fullest and most fatal extent of the new law: When the king heard this report, he was very unhappy. He decided to rescue Daniel and did everything he could do to save Daniel before the sun went down. But these men, all ganged together, came and said to the king, “You must realize, Your Majesty, that the law of Media and Persia, including every law and edict the king has issued, cannot be changed.” So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and hurled him into the pit of lions.[3]
    • But of course, that is not the end of Daniel: At dawn, at the first sight of light, the king rose and rushed to the lions’ pit. As he approached it, he called out to Daniel, worried: “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God – the one you serve so consistently – able to rescue you from the lions?” Then Daniel answered the king: “Long live the king! My God sent his messenger, who shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t touched me because I was judged innocent before my God. I haven’t done anything wrong to you either, Your Majesty.” The king was thrilled. He commanded that Daniel be brought up out of the pit, and Daniel was lifted out. Not a scratch was found on him, because he trusted in his God.[4]
    • “The rest of the story” (a lá Paul Harvey) = the king decides to have Daniel’s accusers thrown into the lions’ pit instead (doesn’t work out so well for them as for Daniel) → king sends out a new decree, declaring “fear and reverence” for Daniel’s God – “the living God”
  • I don’t think any of us would argue that 2020 has been a year in the lions’ den.
    • Daniel faced danger and entrapment on all sides
      • First from the jealous and corrupt officers and chief administrators
      • Next from the letter of the law (despite the king’s anguish and frustration with his own law)
      • Finally from the lions themselves
      • And no matter how strong his faith, I can imagine that Daniel felt fear in some of those moments – fear in the moment when the other officers and chief administrators caught him in prayer; fear in the moment when, despite the king’s own misgivings, Darius sentenced Daniel to death in the lions’ den; fear in the moment when he was lowered and sealed into that pit with those lions.
        • Important point: fear and faith are not mutually exclusive à being afraid doesn’t mean your faith is weak or lacking or ineffective … But it also doesn’t mean that God is not with you.
          • Benjamin Disraeli (former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1868): Fear makes us feel our humanity.
    • If nothing else, 2020 has certainly made us feel our humanity.
      • Feel the fear of our neighbors, family, friends, and loved ones battling COVID
        • Those who are ill themselves
        • Those who are working on the front lines in overextended hospitals and care facilities around the country
        • Those who are experiencing the extreme isolation of this pandemic
        • Those who are struggling financially because of the screeching halt pandemic brought to our economy
      • Feel the fear of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color neighbors, family, friends, and loved ones in the wake of the violent and senseless deaths of so many: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, and so many more
        • Feel the fear of our communities and our nation in the months that led up to the election and in these weeks that have followed
      • Fear can be paralyzing. It can be insidious. It can steal even the most basic things from us: our ability to think clearly; our breath and our speech; our compassion and our empathy. But fear can also be inspiring – the thing that stirs us to move with purpose and intention.
        • Move closer to one another
        • Move closer to God
      • Friends, the aspect of our faith that continues to astound me is that, even knowing about the deepest depths and most hidden corners of fear, God chose to come down among us. Because of those deepest depths and hidden corners, God chose to come down among us – not as some avenging force, not as some charismatic leader with an overpowering army, not as some mystical presence to sweep through the land … but as a child. As a vulnerable, precious, fully human child in a manger. God knew the dangers and fears that lived in the world … and God came anyway. God knew the dangers and fears that lived in human hearts … and God came anyway. God knew that those same dangers and fears awaited the Christ-child … that those same dangers and fears would eventually bring about the death of that Christ-child … but in that death, those same dangers and fears would be overcome forever and all time by God’s own love embodied in that Christ-child. And so God comes anyway. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Dan 1:1, 3-6.

[2] Dan 6:1-5.

[3] Dan 6:14-16a.

[4] Dan 6:19-23.

One response to “Sunday’s Sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Danger and Fear

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: It Happened Anyway … In the Face of Broken Dreams | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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