Do you ever feel like you are stuck in a hopeless situation?
- Many millennials feel trapped by the fact that a college education is so expensive that, even if they get one, they will be so buried under debt that they will never get out. What’s the point?
- Many GenXers feel trapped between their millennial children who can’t leave home and their aging parents for whom they must care. They have to work extra hard to pay for everything.
- Many people from the Boomer and Builder generation feel trapped by the reality of their aging bodies, being forced into retirement or assisted living, and the rapid pace at which the world they built and loved is disintegrating all around them.
- Many people feel trapped between competing ideologies that wage war against each other and threaten to dismantle the fabric of a peaceful, interdependent society.
Where is God in all this? Where is hope?
This week I am faced with the challenge to preach from the Narrative Lectionary text Daniel 6:6-27 and introduce our theme for Advent this year. The Advent Theme is Don’t Rush the Promise. We decided to go with that theme because our overarching theme for the year is God’s Promise for Everyone.
God’s Promise is to be with us and to redeem all of creation: to let Shalom (real peace) rule the world. Yet, the promise seems slow in coming. More often than not, the powerful forces that oppose God’s Promise seem to rule the day and even oppress those people who strive to remain faithful to God’s Promise. These powerful forces are any human system that elevates itself to Imperial status, makes its own way of being the only “correct” way of being, and oppresses those who are weaker or different in order to gain and maintain power, wealth, and fame.
We preach from the prophets during Advent because one of the themes that runs through all the prophets is exactly this sense of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and in the face of God’s delayed promise. The story of Daniel is particularly poignant in this regard. Daniel was taken from his home in Jerusalem as a young man and forced to become trained as a Babylonian scholar and government official. He was continually challenged to betray his own convictions and conform to the ways of Empire.
Our central text paints a vivid picture of what happens when we are forced to choose between a corrupt law enforced by the Beastly Empire and doing what we believe is faithful to God’s Promise. Daniel peacefully defies the interdict that was designed to exclude and destroy him. Then he is condemned to death for it. Daniel is miraculously saved from the execution and the King has a conversion experience that liberates the oppressed people, even in their captive state. (see the Bible Bookshelf page on Daniel)
The real challenge for me, as the preacher, is how to connect this story to our story, so that we can see ourselves in God’s continuing story. How are we trapped by Imperial forces of oppression? If you go back and read my opening paragraph, notice what I’m doing and to whom I’m speaking. This is a message from a white, middle-aged, middle-class, Protestant suburban Pastor to a group of white, middle-class, Protestant suburban people. The sense of feeling trapped is real for us, but it is a stretch to connect it to the reality of Daniel’s story.
The truth is that millions of people, today, live Daniel’s story in a painfully similar way, and their lives are at stake. Beastly Empires oppress people’s faithful convictions on a daily basis. The Imperial forces of the United States are no exception. The marginalized in our society are continually coerced, both implicitly and explicitly, to conform to patterns that betray their sense of faithfulness to God’s Promise.
This is where I struggle. I am not one of the marginalized. I stand among the privileged, simply because I was born a straight, white, middle-class, male. I live in a safe neighborhood, our taxes pay for good schools, children in our part of town have potential and opportunity. I am buffered from the places where people live out Daniel’s story in real time. I know that poverty and violent oppression exists just a few miles from my home, and across the globe, but, in my lived experience, it might as well be back in Daniel’s time, because I don’t feel it.
Yet, I do feel the pressures that I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I do feel trapped by warring ideologies and economic pressure. These are real to me and to the people to whom I am called to proclaim the Gospel and remind that God’s Promise is at work, but not to be rushed. It is fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and we are called to live into it each day.
I wonder, does anyone else struggle with these issues?
Here is a wonderful video from the Bible Project that offers an overview of Daniel.