First Sunday of Advent – December 3, 2017
Daniel 3:1, 8-30 [selected verses] and John 18:36-37
I have a question for you today. Does anybody know how old the lowly marshmallow is? 50 years? Maybe 200 years? Would you believe the marshmallow was around before Columbus discovered America? Marshmallows actually date back to ancient Egypt. It’s even possible that when Jesus, Mary and Joseph were there, they might have actually eaten marshmallows when they were refugees. Historians estimate that the marshmallow came into being over 4000 years ago.
Why all this talk about marshmallows? Well, we’re going to be talking about a big fire. And if there’s a big fire, you want to make sure somebody brings marshmallows. The fire we’re talking about is the one you heard about in the book of Daniel, the fiery furnace where King Nebuchadnezzar wanted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be consumed by the flames. These three men were a part of the King’s staff, they were from royal lineage and yet the King had ordered them into the furnace.
This is a very popular story. It has been told over & over again, songs have even been written about it and we’re going to listen to part of one entitled “Fourth Man in the Fire.”
Before we listen though, let’s talk about the theme of the song. There are three distinct parts…”They wouldn’t bow” The King built a gold idol in the province where the three men were leaders. But for several reasons Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to worship this idol. When the King heard about how his well-respected leaders were acting, he immediately sent for them—he felt like he was being snubbed and he did not like it! When the men arrived in the court the king even offered a second chance because they were an important part of his staff. “But… they wouldn’t bend” And that made Nebuchadnezzar even more angry. How dare they thwart his authority. He had them thrown into the fiery furnace. But they still wouldn’t bend. The men exclaimed to the King that, “God would save them. But even if God didn’t save them, it wouldn’t change their love for God.”
Well all that did, was make the King angrier—he ordered that the furnace be stoked hotter—seven times the normal temperature. But to everybody’s surprise, when the king looked into the extremely hot furnace the men were still alive—they wouldn’t burn.
But not only that—inside the furnace there was someone else with them; someone who had the appearance of a god. When the door of the furnace was opened nothing had been harmed, not their clothes or shoes not even a hair on their head was singed.
They wouldn’t bow, they wouldn’t bend, they wouldn’t burn. And when asked how this could have possibly happened, they gave testimony to God. Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he declared that if anyone, anywhere ever said anything against God, they will be punished severely because there has never been another god who could pull off a rescue like that.
Let’s listen to part of the song entitled “Fourth Man in the Fire”, the lyrics will be on our screen. I’ve chosen the Johnny Cash version but there are many others, from a Bluegrass version, there’s several Gospel and Contemporary Christian music versions, and another by the Beastie Boys. This story out of Daniel has made a big impact….“They wouldn’t bow, they wouldn’t bend, they wouldn’t burn.”
(AFTER the song….)
So, what does this story & song really tell us? I think it has one big message. No matter what we face in life, no matter how hot the furnace or what kind of fire we find ourselves in, we are not alone, God is with us.
Perhaps we are facing debt we feel we will never overcome. Maybe a job loss has left us feeling hopeless. Some of us are facing or have faced surgery that is frightening and the road to recovery feels too long to handle. Maybe you have an illness, a disease or a disability that fuels your fire. Or maybe the fire in your life has to do with being overwhelmed by the troubles of your children or of your aging parents. Perhaps single parenthood feels like it is simply too much.
Or maybe the heat you feel isn’t from your own personal life right now, perhaps it is a result of the world around you—the decisions politicians are making, racism, terrorism, poverty, the opioid crisis that is looming worse than ever before, in our own city, province and country. When you turn on the TV to catch up on the news, or check your iPhone for breaking news stories—there’s a feeling of such strife, tragedy, disillusionment—you feel disheartened or it may make you feel hopeless. Some days it is extremely difficult to keep everything in perspective.
God doesn’t promise to take us out of the flames and the fires of life. God promises to be right there with us, smack dab in the middle of the flames. And not only that, God promises us a future beyond what is going on here & now. When you become disillusioned with life on earth, rest assured there is a promised land from a completely different realm.
For today’s purposes, there’s no such thing as a fireproof life or even fireproof faith. Accepting Christ doesn’t give us some kind of heavenly fire insurance. But it does give us a promise from God. A promise of the very presence of God through Jesus Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves. That’s what fuelled the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. May it fuel your faith as well…and don’t forget the marshmallows. The next time you’re cooking a marshmallow over a big fire, may you be reminded of that fourth man in the fire—remember you are never alone.
Source: CSS Publishing Company, Inc., From the Pulpit, by Billy D. Strayhorn, on sermons.com
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church and Heather Tansem, Elder at Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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