(sermon note: 11-29 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/8Mv-_7YyueA)
So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors, are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open towards 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. The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, ‘O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?’ The king answered, ‘The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ Then they responded to the king, ‘Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.’
When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, ‘Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.’
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’ A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?’ Daniel then said to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.’ Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: ‘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,
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.’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man who was lost in the desert. After walking for two days, he finally saw a small, wooden structure on the horizon.
He realized this might be his last hope and channeled all his last remaining energy to get there. Two hours later, he finally got to what seemed to be some kind of well. Barely able to stand up, the man walked around the well to find a bucket or something. There didn’t seem to be anything of the sort and the well was just too deep to see anything. Desperate for just a little refreshment, the man grabbed a big rock next to the well and threw it down the well, hoping it might at least splash a little water on his face. But after the rock hit the ground, he could hear that the well was in fact completely dry. Out of strength and completely hopeless, the man sank down next to the well, waiting for certain death to come. Suddenly a goat came flying towards him, whirling around him, and finally flew into the well. Unable to believe what he had just seen, the man told himself that the dehydration was making him hallucinate and he was going crazy. About five minutes passed and suddenly the man saw a boy running towards him. The boy saw the dying man and without hesitation handed him some life-saving water. After the man was able to stand up again, the boy nervously asked him, “Did you happen to see my goat come by here? I can’t find it and I will get in big trouble if I lose it.” The man, seriously doubting his sanity and asking himself again if what he saw was real, answered, “Yeah, I, uh, I saw a goat, but you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that it flew through the air and around me and then it flew down that well!” The boy looked at the boy and said, “What? That’s impossible! I had tied it to a big rock, just next to the well!”
Hope is a funny thing. It can make the impossible possible. It can even make the fantastical a reality! Hope is what drove that man to wander around that desert aimlessly for two, long days. Hope is what drove that man to throw that rock down the well. And look at what hope got him even when he was without hope? A kind boy who was eager to offer him some life-restoring water. I wonder how eager he would have been to offer such a kind gesture had he known the man had killed his prized goat! But what’s done was done…the man was restored at the unfortunate expense of the boy’s goat.
Our reading lifted up a similar underground miracle, this time for our friend, Daniel. Recall that Daniel was a deeply faithful servant and prophet of God. His revelatory dreams had gotten him not only the king’s attention but his respect and admiration. King Darius had valued and appreciated all of Daniel’s prophetic dreams and felt very sorry for having been tricked by his presidents and satraps into getting Daniel thrown in the lion’s den in the first place. But King Darius was stuck between a rock and hard place. He couldn’t rescind his order to punish anyone who worshipped any God beside the king. At the same time, he didn’t wish any harm upon his faithful adviser, Daniel. So King Darius was caught up in a power trap that could threaten any leader. His scheming advisers appeared to have outwitted him. But they didn’t outwit Daniel and Daniel’s God, our God. No, they inadvertently gave Daniel the opportunity to reveal just how mighty our God is, mighty enough to keep the lions from devouring Daniel. You see, Daniel’s hope and assurance in God’s ability to save him in his unmerited situation and God to perform a mighty miracle.
Again, hope enables the impossible to become possible, the fantastical to become reality. Hope is a mighty tool indeed! It’s no wonder that hope is listed among the three gifts of the Spirit. Though not as great as love, hope is arguably just as powerful as faith in revealing God’s full glory. Hope is what enables us to endure great suffering in this world. Hope keeps us moving forward in life even when everything else around us tells us to stop or even go backwards. Hope is a great motivator and can set events in motion that can lead to the impossible and fantastical becoming possible and a reality. Hope can fuel great faith and love and without it, life can become quite despairing. Hopelessness is not how God wants us to have our being. God wants us to be of great hope at all times.
We need hope now more than ever. A great darkness has descended upon our land and our world. If you heard my Thanksgiving message, you heard how important it is to be thankful for all the many blessings God has bestowed on us and continues to bestow on us. God hasn’t abandoned us in this time of great uncertainty and rising anxiety. God has been with us since day one of the pandemic and has revealed a multitude of little graces and mercies along the way. We can forget about these. We can’t lose hope in him and in each other. We will make it through our world situation together, with God and each other. And as I said on Thursday, I strongly believe we’ll only make it through with a strong dose of God’s grace and mercy. Only He can save us from our situation…from ourselves.
And He will! Place your faith and hope and love in him! Our God is a good and gracious God! God saved Daniel from a seemingly hopeless situation, you better believe He’ll save us from our seemingly hopeless situation! Take comfort in this, rejoice in this. Of course, the pandemic aside, we are kicking off the Advent season this Sunday and we are encouraged to renew our hope in the coming of the light of the world, our Lord, Jesus Christ. In just a few, short weeks, we will again celebrate the birth and rebirth of Jesus. Jesus will yet again shine in our dark world. What a gift, what a blessing! Heaven knows our world has been ever so dark these last several months. We need Jesus’ light to shine bright now more than ever! The hope we have for his birth is something to be treasured in the weeks ahead.
Friends, hope is a great gift from God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13) God himself is a God of hope. He wants his creation to not only survive but to flourish. He has hope in this! And He wants us to know the joy and peace that comes from hope. It’s only fitting that we’ll be celebrating peace and joy in the weeks ahead–they both stem from hope. Nonetheless, Paul writes earlier in his letter to the Romans, “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (12:12) We are to rejoice and be glad for the gift of hope that enables us to endure great suffering in this world as I mentioned earlier.
As we set out on our journey through Advent, let us not only rejoice in hope and nurture hope but also plant seeds of hope in the world around us. The world needs hope and we have the greatest hope found in our Lord, Jesus Christ! Let us help others reclaim their lost hope in this world. Hope enables us all to persevere. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.