There’s a lot of truth in this story, even if it didn’t happen exactly like it says. I imagine that most of you have the same knowledge of the book of Daniel that I do. You learned the stories from Sunday school and VeggieTales, or both. Feel good fun stories, these are then stories of excitement, good guys and bad, and fluffy animals. Shortly before this we have the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedigo—Daniel’s friends who also had an interaction with a king and cruel co-workers and surviving unexpected situations.
When we tell this story, often we hold up Daniel as the most faithful, that is his faithfulness and prayers in the darkness of that pit that saved him from being devoured by the lions. That is the lesson, be faithful the forces and evil and suffering won’t touch you… which now, we know isn’t true. Even in our own stories, Jesus met with suffering.
Daniel tells stories of the time living in and under Babylon rule as well as after they had been conquered. This story of Daniel, Darius was a Persian King. And somehow Daniel finds himself in a position of leadership, in a close relationship with the king, and, like Joseph or Esther, in a position of leadership while still being foreigners.
And, as expected, not everyone was fond of having this foreigner in a position the same, or above theirs. They convince the king to write the edict, the laws, that demands that everyone worship him for a month, because, there had been a connection between the leader, kings, emperors and the gods, sometimes seen and worshiped as Gods. It seems to stroke the king’s ego, it sounds like a reasonable plan. Why wouldn’t anyone want to pray to him?
Yet, Daniel’s co-workers have set him up. They know that he prays at the windows 3 times a day, every day, facing Jerusalem and this is the first time that this act, praying toward Jerusalem is documented, an act that continues today in some Jewish communities, as well as other religious communities.
One translation of scripture says that those men, those leaders who were trying to set up Daniel, came thronging in, which I had never heard of happening before but I adds a layer of ridiculousness to the story. Can you see them, this huddled group of men, bursting into the door at Daniel’s house, seeing him pray, pulling out their phones and snapping a photo, running out and thronging into the king’s chamber. It makes me think of those cartoon masses that just bounce along.
And the kings hands are tied. Which is also ridiculous, if you’re the king, wouldn’t you have the power to say… Dang! I didn’t mean that, Daniel’s fine. Let him alone.” But apparently he didn’t.
So one has to wonder why all this work to mess with Daniel. I don’t think that we’re working with a bunch of mean boys who just decide they’re not a fan. These were life and death stakes. No, it’s probably not that.
I wonder if the truth of the story might hit a little close to home…
The Jewish people who were living in Babylon didn’t choose to be there, they were taken but they made a home for themselves, so much so that at least one of them was in a position of some influence. Maybe, the powerful of the current empire were comfortable with these people being in their space, as long as they didn’t think too highly of themselves, as long as they did reach for heights, as long as they were less than them…
Maybe, they would be fine, if they would just learn to live as everyone else does. Jeremiah told the exiles to build houses and plant gardens and pray for the welfare of the city they were in. If they had just learned the way one is suppose to live as part of the Persian empire, if they had just assimilated, maybe there won’t have been a lion pit, or a furnace.
It’s a thing the powerful do. It has been part of our culture that if people of color could just be more like us… if they could just talk, act, dress, live “properly”, things would be better. This has included the regulating of black women’s hair, as straight hair is not just the ideal, just the expectation. Last month some of us read Ibram Kendi, second book, but in his first book, he calls it “uplift suasion”—minimizing black culture, suggesting it just “rise up” to the dominate (white) culture.
And it is Thanksgiving weekend and we have much to be grateful for, but when we think about the story we tell, about pilgrims and Native Americans, we have a lot to answer for. And what might be the worst, was when the powerful, demanded that Native people stop speaking their language, and cut their hair, stop practicing their religion, so that they could assimilate, be “civilized.”
And, there are still those today to pray in the direction of a city. Muslims pray toward Mecca 5 times a day, and instead of celebrating their devotion, they are met with hostility, aggression, scarves ripped from heads, called names, no matter how much the rest of their living does, in fact, participate in the culture around them.
It seems like the powerful that were setting up Daniel were not just trying to convince him to conform, but for him to give up hope in his own being, in his own God, in his way living, in all the things that made him the person he was. They tried to destroy hope.
And what blows my mind, when it comes to Black people and their culture being minimized, and immigrants speaking their native languages to the disgust of others, Native Americans having their heritage ripped from them, Muslims being treated as evil, what blows my mind, is there is still hope.
Daniel went to his window every day, not just this day, he faced Jerusalem and hoped and prayed for his return to Jerusalem, for the Jews return to Jerusalem, for a return to free worship of their God, for a return to the promises that God had made with them, for freedom, deliverance, justice. It was as if Daniel understood that the way he was living, exiled in this city, was not the way the world was supposed to be. He still had hope for the world to be… probably not unlike our prayer: God’s will on earth. And this wasn’t quite it. And even in the midst of persecution, in the darkness and loneliness of the pit, in the face of real danger, Daniel held onto hope.
I can’t speak for the communities I mentioned before, but, something persists. Languages are being taught, stories are being told, traditions are being passed down, prayers are being spoken, voices are lifting up, personal and community stories are being told because story telling is an act of hope, hope was not destroyed, no matter how many times… we, people who look like me, have tried to do so.
Advent is in part about hope. In advent we are waiting, and we aren’t waiting for Christmas, we’re waiting for Jesus, not the birth in the manger but return that he promised us—that he would come back, that the world would be set right, that justice and mercy would flow like water, that those with nothing would be brought to the table and served first, that swords would be made into plowshares so that all might have enough.
We wait, and we hope, because we know that this world isn’t as it’s supposed to be. It is filled with far more pain, suffering, struggles, we see evil in our systems and sometimes evil in our own hearts. I wonder if you know the feeling of being in a pit, of a place or a time that brings despair. Maybe it’s sickness or a mental health struggle or addition, yours or someone you love. Maybe it’s this isolation of pandemic after 8 months. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship you just – can’t – seem – to get out of. Maybe you’ve faced dangers, maybe you’ve seen the lion’s teeth, maybe you’ve even felt their bite. And you wonder how you can have hope in the midst of these days of struggle and strife. And you remember when you were a child and they taught you that if you had enough faith like Daniel you’d be safe. But maybe that’s not the point of the story. Maybe the point of the story is that with a little faith comes a little hope. And a little hope can spark a fire because hope spreads, it grows, it reaches out, it brings more. It is hope that even as Jesus suffered, faced the lions, succumb to death, that is not the end of the story—the next chapter is new life, resurrection, good overcoming evil, love over fear.
This advent we hope. We sit at our windows and face the new life, the new world, we face justice, mercy, kindness, love, and healing that is coming and we pray for their hastening. And we pray for understanding our place in bringing it forth. We pray that we can be beacons of the hope of Jesus into this world that needs more justice, more love, more hope.