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Hope in the Midst of Beasts | A Sermon from Daniel for Advent 1

This sermon looks at the story of Daniel in the lions’ den in Daniel 6:6-27 and asks how we can find hope in our own lives when we feel like we are surrounded by beasts.

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Do you ever feel trapped?

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in a hopeless situation?

It is like you are surrounded by forces that are beyond your control that threaten to harm you either physically or emotionally. And you feel like you have done everything according the way you thought God wanted you to do it.

You ask, “Where is God in all this? Where is hope?”

I don’t know what your particular situation might be. It’s different for all of us.

That is the situation in which Daniel finds himself in our text today.

The book of Daniel is full of powerful stories and really freaky visions.

The Bible Project has created this chart and a wonderful video that walks through the whole story of Daniel and really helps to make sense out of the imagery used in the book. It is 8 minutes long, and I was tempted to just show it for the sermon today. Instead I want to highlight a couple pieces.

(here’s the video, it’s awesome)

First, 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.

Daniel and his friends find themselves in three similar situations. In chapter 1 they are coerced to violate their dietary laws. They resist and overcome. In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego won’t bow down to the statue of the King, so they are thrown into a fiery furnace, but they survive and are exalted. Then, here in chapter 6, Daniel is set up by a cruel interdict that makes it illegal to pray to God. He is thrown into the pit of lions to die. He is rescued and exalted.

One of the key images that the story of Daniel uses is the preferred way that humans should behave, as created in the image of God. These images are drawn from the creation story of Genesis and the Psalms. When we don’t act this way, and think that we are God, then we become Beasts.

So, what does that look like for us? What are the beasts that surround us, and how do we find hope?

I think the answer lies in one key word: Promise.

Our big theme for Advent is “Don’t Rush the Promise.”

We chose this theme for a couple reasons. One, because Advent is a season of slowing down. It is a counter-cultural moment for us. When the beast of consumerism threatens to suck the meaning out of this season, we can take a deep breath, and slowly move through Advent.

The second reason is that it often seems like God’s promise is taking too long. It seems like the darkness is overpowering the light and that the beasts are winning. All we can do is wait.

We said, “Don’t Rush the Promise” because our theme for the whole year is “God’s Promise for Everyone.”

This begs the question: What is the promise?

I’ve been soaking in that question all week and an image kept flooding my mind. So, I felt that I had to share it with you. I hope it’s not too big or too abstract.

This sketch is a variation on one of my profs, Pat Keifert’s, version of Law and Gospel. He calls it God’s Preferred and Promised World, and I think it will help us understand the Promise.

Like the Bible Project’s picture told us, we draw the purpose for creation from Genesis 1. The driving force and purpose for creation is life. The universe is a dynamic system that is constantly unfolding and life persists, even in the most desperate situations.

And, life is a gift. We don’t choose to be born. We don’t create life, we simply are creative with the life that happens around us.

Life thrives when it is in the proper environment. It requires three things. First, it requires love. True love is not selfish, but looks out for what is best for the other. God is love, and God creates for love.

The second thing life requires is equality. There is a balance to the universe. We see this in the days of creation. There is light and dark, the waters above and the waters below, the sea and the dry land, the vegetation and the living creatures. Then, we see that humanity is created male and female, equally the image of God.

The third element is mutual interdependence. All of these equal parts and unique, but not separate. We are all interconnected with everything and we need each other and everything in order for life to happen.

When all of these things are present, it is called Shalom, which is the Hebrew word for peace.

The only way that shalom can exist is when it is held together in a well-ordered system. That is what we mean by Law. Creation was the process of bringing order out of chaos. Every system—biological or human/civic—requires a well-ordered system (Law) that promotes Shalom. And God calls this very good.

Now, the underlying word for all of this is Power or Energy. Where does life come from? The Power of Life is God.

This is the role of the Holy Spirit: to power life. God’s power is not to control the universe, but to animate it and provide the energy for life to unfold. Only God can do this.

Jesus called this picture of life and peace “The Kingdom of God” or “The Kingdom of Heaven.”

But, we know that the world doesn’t look like this. If this is God’s preferred world, then why are there so many beasts surrounding us?

Again, I think it comes down to the word power.

Whenever an individual or a human system seeks to claim power for itself, as if power were something to be possessed and used to control life,

it inevitably replaces love with hatred/fear;

equality with self-exaltation; and

mutual interdependence with exclusive self-protection.

This is the story of Genesis 2-11. God’s law is violated, fear and shame throw God’s preferred world into chaos, and blood is spilt between brothers. Then humans seek power and the tower of Babel is built, and

the oppressive Empire is born.

This is not a picture of God’s well-ordered law that leads to Shalom. This is Empire.

This is what the Bible calls Death.

And this is what the book of Daniel calls the Beasts.

So, how do we find hope in the midst of beasts?

The Bible Project chart ends with this.

There is a Pattern and a Promise for all generations:

  • Human beings become beasts when they don’t acknowledge God’s Kingdom (Shalom).
  • God will one day confront the Beast and rescue his world.

I don’t know what beastly power surrounds you today. Perhaps you have become that beastly power.

This I do know. Jesus came to show us how to find hope in the midst of beasts.

He did not fight power with power. He fought power with the power of love. He followed the way of the cross and gave himself up for the sake of the world. This is the Gospel.

Then he breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples.

Now we, the church, are the incarnation of God’s Preferred World in the shadow of Empire. It is our job to stand with the oppressed, speak truth to power, and cling to the Promise that God has defeated Sin and Death through the death and resurrection of Jesus

and will eventually restore Shalom to the Earth.

Until then, we often find ourselves surrounded by beasts, clinging to the Promise of God.

This Advent season, let’s not rush the Promise.

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