Sunday, December 2, 2012

Longing for Righteousnes: Advent 1 Sermon on Daniel 6

Scripture can be found here...

Advent begins in exile.

We begin Advent, this season of anticipation, by singing a hymn whose origins are so ancient we’re not even sure whether it dates from the 15th century, or the 12th, or the 8th.

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

At the beginning of Advent we place ourselves in solidarity with those who, in the great story of scripture, found themselves in exile.

Exile: the state of being forcibly removed from one’s country or home.

Exile: the one who is forcibly separated from his or her country or home.

Advent begins in exile, and exile began with a war.

Beginning in the year 599 BCE the Babylonian Empire laid siege to the southern kingdom of Judah, attacking Jerusalem, the capital city and home of the temple. There followed a series of three deportations, in which the political strategy of “decapitation” was carried out: the occupying power either kills or sends into exile all those of the ruling and educated classes. The king and his court, priests, scribes, officials, prophets—anyone who could write, anyone who might be a threat because they might be able to inspire or organize a resistance movement—they were all carried off into Babylon. This left the working people, the peasantry, the poorest and most powerless, to try to scratch out an existence in a scorched landscape, in full view of their desecrated holy place.

Jerusalem, God’s holy city Zion, was not forgotten by those who went into exile. The people sang,

By the waters, the waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept, and wept for thee Zion.
We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion. ~Psalm 137:1

After the year 538, when the Babylonian conquerors were, themselves, conquered by the Persians, there began a gradual return to Judah and rebuilding of the Temple. But some remained in exile. Some, like Daniel, had found a life in the foreign land to which they, or perhaps, their parents, had been carried.

Why wouldn’t you go home, if you had the chance? Why would you choose to stay in exile?

Sometimes, the answer is simple: good and rewarding work. Daniel, like Joseph many generations before him, had risen to a position of power and authority in the Persian regime. He was one of just three presidents over a group of 120 governors, called “satraps,” and he performed so excellently, he had such a tremendous ‘spirit’ in him, according to our story, that the king, Darius, had decided to put him in charge of the entire land.

This was too much for his colleagues, for the other presidents and satraps. Maybe Daniel is disliked because he was an immigrant, even though he had been brought into the land entirely by force. Maybe there would have been resentment for anyone who’d made his way to the top of the pile.

Whatever the reason, Daniel is targeted. A law is fashioned specifically to make what he does in his every day life illegal: praying. And we’re not talking about praying at public events, or in the classroom, using his power and authority to subject the good Persian citizens to his personal religious beliefs. We’re talking about prayer in his own home, to the God of his faith, the God of his people, the God who is with him even in exile. Not only does the king sign the law, he signs an additional provision that makes the undoing of the law illegal and therefore impossible.

What does it mean to be righteous? Not self-righteous, which is probably our most persistent association with that word. But righteous: living up to our own highest hopes and expectations for our behavior. Good. True. Loyal. Noble. I think most of us hope that, if we ever found ourselves seriously morally at odds with some entity—an employer, an organization, a club, even the government—that we would somehow find it within ourselves to do the right thing. All around us, day by day, we see just the opposite, in every sector of society. But we hope we would be different.

In Advent, in exile, I think we are longing for righteousness.

We are longing for the righteousness that does the moral thing, whether it is politically expedient or not.

We are longing for the righteousness that holds fast to faith, even at the risk of losing everything.

We are longing even for the compromised righteousness of a King Darius, who spends the night unable to eat or sleep because of someone who is not his kin, not his tribe, not even his nationality: sleepless and fasting because he has a conscience, and when something is wrong, it’s wrong.

And when something is right, it’s right. Daniel is a man living in exile, but one who clings to his faith, his sense of what is right, and his hope in God’s kindness and mercy. Daniel is a righteous man.

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Advent begins in exile. Which, as I ponder it, is something like the human condition. We are all, at some point, people in mourning, separated from those we love. We are all, at some point, lonely, strangers in a strange land, even if that land is the very same place we have lived for twenty years or more. We are all, at some point, exiles, wondering how we can sing songs of joy when life feels barren and hostile.

But even in that foreign land we sing our song. We share a story of one man whose righteousness reminds us of what we are longing for. We kindle a flame of hope and gather around a table, seeking bread for this journey—the journey every exile longs to make. The journey home.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment