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Centering on God’s presence in times of struggle

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1st Sunday of Advent – November 27, 2016

Daniel 6:6-27 and Luke 23:1-5

In the world of Daniel, prayer is not a polite remembrance around the dinner table. In the world of Daniel, prayer is not a tool for getting what you want from God or making you feel better. In the world of Daniel, prayer is not a pious navel-gazing that isolates or protects the praying one from trouble. In the world of Daniel, prayer is a dangerous and powerful act of resistance against the principalities and powers that disorder God’s good world and oppress God’s beloved people.

Wow, what a difference such a perspective makes. With this perspective, the den of lions becomes mere décor around the story about Daniel.

Today we have turned towards the book of Daniel as we follow the narrative arc of the Bible. The followers of God, God’s servants, faithful or not, had various kings, and than at one point they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians and brought into exile in a foreign country where they weren’t citizens of the visible world around them, but they still belonged to God. As we shift into this exile and its aftermath, the rulers change from Babylon, to Assyria and now the Persian empire.

Advent really is a time to enter into the stories of exile. This is the time when we sing, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and rensom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”. When we look at what happens, it is striking to see where Daniel puts his focus.

Where else can we put our focus? There is only one God who remains faithful throughout the centuries.

How does our Christian faith stand up in the face of tumultuous times, times of struggle and times of total uncertainty?

We see powers change overnight. This year has had its fair share of changes.

Isn’t it wonderful to actually experience that the Biblical narrative intersects with our narrative of 2016. God’s story, God’s history intersects with our stories. We are not alone.

Not by any stretch are we oppressed like to people in Daniel’s time. But there are Christ followers who are oppressed right now. Some Christ followers in North America would want to prove that they are being oppressed. We don’t really experience it as starkly as Christians in other parts of the world.

When so many other forces want to claim our allegiance, it becomes striking to see Daniel finding a way to center himself in an appropriate way.

Perhaps you and I too have need to find an appropriate way to center ourselves in the appropriate direction. Daniel was trying as faithfully as he could to employ his prayers as a form and means of resistance. He could have given in to king Darius, or to the administrative officials of king Darius’ government. King Darius weakly gives in and allows the presidents and satraps to dictate what needs to be done and decrees that nobody is allowed to pray to anyone else than the king himself.

The book of Daniel can be seen as resistance literature. Civil disobedience carries more weight than obeying floundering forces who want to claim Daniel’s allegiance.

We might wonder where world events are heading. We might be pulled into twenty different directions. Our peers could be tugging at us to stay in their company. The stores with an appeal to our consumer spirit could be tugging us in their direction.

Indeed, it is not all that easy to find the true centre of our spiritual life and life of faith.

Daniel was inspired by God to pray to God three times a day. He turned his face towards Jerusalem, the place where the people of God found their truest worship.

God had led them out of Egypt and now the people were in exile, but the focus remains on this God who has always been faithful and reliable, the God of promise.

During advent we will be finding so many forces that try to detract us. This a season to centre ourselves on the Son of God, on the coming of God in God’s Son Jesus, the one Emmanuel who brings life and love into our relationships.

Our reading ends with the words of king Darius to Daniel: “May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:

For he is the living God,

enduring forever.

His kingdom shall never be destroyed,

and his dominion has no end.

He delivers and rescues,

he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth;

for he has saved Daniel

from the power of the lions.”

There have been and will be many kingdoms. The kingdom of Egypt rose and fell, the kingdom of Babylon rose and fell, Rome rose and fell, and so will many kingdoms rise and fall. Will the American civilization last forever? Unfortunately not.

But praise God that the kingdom of God will indeed last into eternity and we are invited to be part of this kingdom, this new reality.

It is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of God’s first coming to the world and God’s continuous coming to the world, as well as the final coming to the world through the Christ child, and we have the opportunity to centre around this Lord who reign despite all the sign that hint at the opposite.

 

Copyright 2016 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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