I’ve written a couple devotionals in the past for Advent….mainly for college-aged folk, something for them to reflect on while they’re at college. Some food for thought, so to speak…because Advent (along with the Christmas holiday season) puts us in a reflective mood. So I write this with them in mind, but it’s for all those whose faith is along the lines of the theme of this blog – they wrestle with the ways their faith plays out in this world.
This Advent devotional series will be based on the Narrative Lectionary from Luther Seminary. My internship congregation is using it with positive results. Since I just thought of doing this today, I’m posting a bit late. Typically I’ll post on either Wednesday or Thursday prior of the Sunday text in question.
1st Week in Advent – Daniel 6:6-27
Daniel & the Lion’s Den is one a familiar story for most – Daniel gets thrown into a den of lions by King Darius. God shuts the mouths of the lions, thus saving him, and King Darius believes in Daniel’s God. It’s one of the first stories you learn in the Bible. I remember learning it as a kid. I remember singing all sorts of upbeat and cute songs about it.
But there are themes in this story that have serious undertones. Lots of Negro spirituals were written about the story because it talked about God delivering faithful people – a theme that would’ve spoke heavily to people in the bondage of slavery. It’s a story about subversive forces, and the influence and use of power to persecute innocent, faithful people – a theme that would speak to those persecuted for their faith in God.
But the latter theme leads me to ask this question, “Is our faith being threatened?” In our North American context, is North American Christianity being threatened?
I think it’s safe to say Christians and Christianity in the United States is not being persecuted and threatened the way it is in other places around the world. So the typical question that leads to only dealing with feelings not only cheapens what others around the world are experiencing, but it cheapens our own experience. So let’s place that aside for now.
Again, is our faith being threatened? In our North American society, faith and religion is becoming a matter of personal choice, and one we can’t impose on others. “Faith is a private thing” – that’s something that gets said in the name of religious tolerance. But I think such a notion is more subversive than that. Because embedded in that is a notion that manifests itself in statements like this:
- “I’ll tolerate your beliefs, but don’t you dare bring them into the workplace.”
- “You can believe what you want, but don’t you dare say a prayer on your own in front of people.”
- “Separation of church and state must reign supreme.”
This is much different than speaking out against proselytizing, against imposing faith as absolute law, using it to justify judgment and persecution of others. This is a thought that pushes faith to the margins…and right over the cliff of irrelevance.
The story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den highlights the threat when we buy into the notion our faith is to be kept silent in the name of religious respect and tolerance. In the end, you’re faced with a choice: deny your faith altogether because the world tells you it is irrelevant, or be forced to reject the world altogether in the name of your faith. One way leads to godlessness. The other, to religious fanaticism. And I don’t hear a word of hope from God in either of those messages.
Daniel and the Lion’s Den indeed highlights a God who delivers the faithful, but God delivers so that we may live boldly and confidently in the world, not so that we’re removed from it. Faith like Daniel’s is a faith that allows us to face the real dangers and threats to our life in this world – isolation, fear, death, hate – so that we continue to live life abundantly and freely in this world, not shrink and isolate ourselves from it. Such a faith calls us to witness to others simply though the way in which we live our lives, and being humbly honest about how faith in God guides and gives shape to it.
And during this Advent season, I think it’s a good place to start our reflection, because the holiday season many celebrate has a dark side to it – the frantic pace, the commercial messages, the darkness of depression, the threat of suicide. I know I’ve felt them, and I’m sure you have too. I think people are wondering how to live in the midst of it, because as much as our world wants to hide and deny our dark side, we all know it still exists, and it threatens our lives in serious ways. A God who promises deliverance so that we might live freely and abundantly in this world, so that we might give life to others through our witness and service – that is a message of hope.
Questions What ways does the good news of God’s deliverance bring life and light into our lives and world? In what ways do you feel called to witness in your own life this good news, in a world where it is being threatened and pushed to the margins?