Narrative Lectionary Text: Daniel 6:6-27
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is all about waiting. The problem is that we hate to wait!
Waiting is hard to do. We’re suburbanites. We don’t wait for things. If the person in front of us at the light waits more than .3 seconds to go when the light turns green, we’re on the horn. We have such a hard time waiting, we start Black Friday on Thursday Evening!
This week, as I was preparing for this sermon, I posted a question on Facebook and invited you to share your stories about waiting. Some of you jumped on that, and that was fun.
Steve wrote this,
“I remember being almost 16 and not being able to wait to drive. The count down to my birthday and getting my driver’s license. Now I get up in the morning and think “crap” another morning commute sitting in the car.”
Sometimes, as suburbanite Christians, it is hard to get into the season of Advent, because this whole waiting thing doesn’t really make sense to us.
Yet, I’ll tell you right now, the discipline of waiting is an important part of spiritual formation. It is an important part of developing our identity in Christ.
We can learn about waiting from our story today. Let’s open our Bibles to Daniel. Our text was in Daniel 6, but I’m going to draw from the broader story of Daniel.
When we look at Daniel’s story, we see four important elements about waiting.
1. Daniel was displaced.
He was an alien, a stranger in a strange land.
Let’s back up and connect to the big story that we have been tracking this fall. God made the big promise to Abraham. I will make you a great nation. You are blessed to be a blessing.
The people of Israel become a great nation under David, and then Solomon builds the big temple. Then things start going bad.
Two weeks ago we saw that the Empire of Assyria was on the edge of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Last week we saw that Israel had been completely destroyed and that Jeremiah was preaching bad news to the king in Jerusalem.
The Babylonian Empire had overpowered the Assyrians and now they were trying to take over the world.
Daniel’s story fits right into the middle of Jeremiah’s story from last week.
Look at Daniel 1:3-5.
Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court.
Imagine what that must have been like. Daniel was a teenager and he was ripped from his home and forced to learn Babylonian and become one of them.
He was displaced.
As followers of Jesus, we, too, are displaced. Or at least, we should feel like we are.
The apostle Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 2:11-12.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
The Way of Jesus is not the way of the United States. Being a follower of Jesus is always going to be a little bit odd, in every culture. Christians are always aliens, and if we don’t feel a little out of place, then something might be a little off.
I think that’s part of the reason that Advent feels odd to us. It doesn’t completely jibe with the commercialism of the main culture’s view of Christmas. And that’s OK.
2. Daniel was faithful in his displacement.
Look at Daniel 6:3
Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom.
Just because Daniel was an alien in Babylon, it didn’t mean he couldn’t fully engage in the culture and thrive in it.
As followers of Jesus, we don’t have to be against our culture. Our culture has some really wonderful things about it. We need to be active citizens and be fully engaged in politics and the community. This is where we live and that is good.
Yet, notice what happened to Daniel in 6:10.
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
He was forced to make a choice. His value of placing God as the first priority in his life came into direct conflict with his participation with the host culture. Daniel made the tough choice. He placed God above the culture, even to the point of breaking the law to do so.
As followers of Jesus in our suburban culture, we aren’t often forced to break the law, but I think we are pressed to break protocol. I know it seems to be a trivial thing, but I think Advent gives us an opportunity to resist the frenetic pace of the Christmas season. Does it have to be about racing around, buying presents, and sending out the cards, and impressing the boss at the Holiday party? I don’t know how the season impacts your life, but what would happen if you unplugged during Advent and actually slowed down?
3. Sometimes faithfulness leads to the lion’s den.
Here’s the hard cold fact about being a faithful follower of God. It almost always ends up in some form of the lion’s den.
I have a choice at this point in the sermon. I could focus on Daniel’s story alone and tell about the miraculous way that Daniel was delivered from the lion’s den, and tell us that, if we just have enough faith in God, we’ll always be delivered from harm. I can’t do that, because it’s not the truth.
Here’s the truth about lion’s dens.
The lions den leads to two places. Sometimes you get devoured. Sometimes you get delivered.
Jeremiah, the prophet from last week, he got devoured. Jesus got devoured. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor in WWII stood up to Hitler and was executed.
Other times, it turns out like Daniel. Sometimes God keeps the lions from eating you. Sometimes you get delivered.
In either case, the point is the same. It isn’t about our safety and comfort. It’s about faithfulness and God’s glory.
If I ended here, this would actually be a pretty bleak sermon. Just be faithful, and hey, it might turn out OK.
There’s one last thing about Daniel’s story.
4. Faithfulness is fueled by hope.
Why was Daniel able to break the law and face the lions? Because he had hope in God’s promise. He knew that God is faithful and that the Messiah would come.
The rest of Daniel’s story is one where Daniel has visions of how God will deliver Jerusalem. In chapter 9 Daniel pours his heart out to God in confession and repentence. Listen to the very end of that prayer.
Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!”
I really loved the Facebook comments this week that were from the women. All the them spoke about waiting during pregnancy. For nine months we wait. It is the hope of a child that drives us through the pain and the backaches. I know Lona changed her eating patterns and took prenatal vitamins, because hope propelled her.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:22-23 that creation itself groans in labor pains, longing for hope to be born.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In Advent we wait. We are pregnant with hope. We are strangers in a strange land, waiting for that day.
I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you’re caught up in the hussle and bussle of our consumerist Christmas craziness, and you need to slow down and learn to wait on God. Maybe you are in a pit of lions and it seems that all hope is lost.
This Advent season, Iet’s remember that we aren’t there yet. God is still at work, bringing about the promise. We are in process. God has redeemed things through Jesus, and God will restore all things.
Until then we wait, pregnant with hope.