November 29, 2020
Daniel 6: 6-27
Our house in Northern Ontario backs onto hundreds of acres of Crown land.
The terrain is filled with various types of pine trees, birch and blueberry bushes. The landscape is marked with rock outcroppings and cliffs and is home to a variety of wildlife.
Foxes, fishers, deer, moose and black bears have all meandered across our yard over the years.
Early on, Donna and I learned the basic reality of living close to the bush … it’s hard to see black bears at night.
Our porch light had its limits and after 20 or so feet from the back door, the yard and forest became enveloped in darkness.
So … when we let the dogs out at night, we could never be sure if some danger lurked just out of sight … waiting to confront Tucker or Phoebe or before them Barney.
It was a possibility that was periodically reinforced when we’d find the composter lying yards away from where it was when the sun has gone down the day before.
This week’s story about Daniel got me thinking about those dark nights up North.
Remembering sitting out on the back deck … listening … wondering what was out in the uncertainty of the dark.
That’s where the people of Judah and Israel find themselves today.
Last week, in the Book of Jeremiah, we heard of God’s warning to the people … calling on them to change their ways or face hardship.
By the time we get to Daniel in today’s passage, Jerusalem and the Temple … the centre of religious life … lay in ruin and pretty much abandoned. Everything that defined the people as “God’s people” had been stripped away.
The people have been scattered … brought out of their native land and brought into the land of the conquerors. This is what is known as the Diaspora.
There were a couple reasons that the people were scattered and not slaughtered.
Being scattered over a large area meant that gathering to foment rebellion was difficult since the presence of groups of foreigners would be noticed. There would be suspicious eyes on the displaced people at all times.
It also meant that the Babylonian and later the Persian Empire could take advantage of the people’s skills and muscle.
The conquered people could be assimilated into the society … marrying natives of their new land … adopting the society’s culture … traditions and values and shedding those of their homeland.
It also meant that worshipping their own God becomes a bit harder … at least as a community. After years in a foreign land … earning a living … having families … the theory was that the ties to their homeland would weaken and break … they would adopt new gods to worship.
In this setting … in such darkness … the exiled people were left to wonder how they could move forward … wondering if God had abandoned them in this unfamiliar, hostile world.
Daniel … who has worked up to a position of responsibility within the imperial court … is still viewed as an outsider by some people with power and influence.
In a sense, Daniel was already in the lion’s den before the conspiracy was ever conceived by the three officials who were envious of Daniel’s status in the court.
Having an outside with so much power was bad enough, but to make matters worse Daniel still worships his God.
So, these “presidents and satraps” conspire against Daniel. They convince the king … Darius … to pass a law calling for the death of anyone who worships or prays to anyone or anything other than the king during 30-day period.
The conspirators knew that Daniel’s faith dictated that he would continue to worship three times a day … regardless of the personal consequences he faced. And Daniel did not disappoint them … he not only prayed, but he prayed in the place where he habitually prayed … where the conspirators could easily find him breaking the law.
Darius … even though he recognized the injustice of the injunction … still condemned Daniel to death at the paws of a lion.
It’s interesting that a Persian king tries to lessen the injustice of the moment by telling Daniel “May your God … deliver you.”
When guilt led the king to the den the next morning. When the rock blocking the entrance was pulled away … Darius saw that Daniel was unharmed … and the king thanked God … Daniel’s god … for protecting the man in the darkness of the pit … and then, Darius ordered the people to praise Daniel’s God, as well.
Today begins the season of Advent, a season of hope. It’s the time of the year when the nights are long and getting longer … it’s a time right before the moment when it turns around … when the amount of light increases each day.
Many of the scattered people during Daniel’s time hoped for a messiah to come and rescue them, which we believe happened through the birth of Jesus in a little town of Bethlehem … a birth that we spend the coming weeks anticipating … anticipating the coming light in the darkness of the world.
We can each find ourselves in the darkness … physically … mentally … spiritually. Times when circumstances not of our own making place us in a position where uncertainty can claw away at our faith as easily as a lion can claw away flesh.
As this pandemic drags on clouded in uncertainty … especially with the number of cases rising … we can feel disconnected … exiled to our bubbles.
We can feel like foreigners … strangers … even in our sanctuary during times of worship. In those times we can sense the darkness hiding dangerous claws from view.
The past months and the Covid-tinged months to come are a contemporary diaspora. It is a time when we find ourselves scattered and isolated from our faith community – or from the greater community, for that matter.
And in this view, we can take a cue from Daniel and his faithful adherence to the Lord as we wait in exile from our communities.
We can mark the time with prayer … studying God’s Word … connecting with people … recognizing the unjust claims the powers of the world make upon people and discerning a way forward … and ensuring that the negative realities of the moment do not define the future.
We can still demonstrate our faith through empathetic acts … our compassion … toward others feeling the darkness restrict their live.
It is a time when … through our active faith … we can use our longing for something just beyond our sight and prepare the way for the light … the promise of a new life … that is to come into the darkness of the world.
It’s a time when … through our faith-filled actions … we can offer hope to a troubled world … even when we feel that we are standing in the dark.