It’s the first Sunday in Advent—a time when when we’re usually prepared to sing songs of the season and hear the familiar stories that will lead us up to the manger, whether it’s the preparatory texts in Luke’s Gospel or the prophecies of Isaiah, or the echoes of the Exodus story in Matthew’s Gospel. While there are lots of texts to choose from, Advent is always a challenge for preachers because we tend to cover the same territory.
But this year, using the Narrative Lectionary, we’re confronted with a text that looks like anything but an Advent story. If you grew up in the church, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) is a familiar one that we learn in Sunday School as children. It’s a wonderful story of faithful resistance in the midst of a pagan and hostile culture—something we’ve been talking about a lot over the last few weeks.
This has been a historic week by any measure. As we gather here on Sunday, after Tuesday’s election, we suddenly realize that the usual way of things—the predictable politics of the past—is no more. Whether you are dejected or elated over the results, we share in common the fact that none of us knows how the future will play out. Pundits, both professional and amateur, have been offering their predictions since early Wednesday morning, but if we’ve learned anything this week it’s that polls and predictions can be dead wrong.
I’ve seen a lot of Christians posting this week on how to respond to the election. Some are quoting Bible verses, some urging caution and kindness, others despairing, and still others are shocked with no clue as to what to do. I suspect most people are in that latter category. We don’t have a real precedent for this kind of thing—we’ve now marched off the map. We don’t really know what’s next.
Last week we talked about the Passover as the meal signifying Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Remember the way the rabbi described it? “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!.” The story of Passover is a microcosm of the larger liberation project God launched for the whole creation, summed up in Jesus’ meal with his disciples. In the communion meal, Jesus announces deliverance from human slavery to sin and death through the shedding of his own blood—the lamb given for his people. That’s how we summed up the Christian message: “They killed him, he won, let’s eat!”
But while we talked last week about what God frees his people from, this week’s text is really about what God frees his people for. What is freedom for?
For the answer, we have to go back a little further. Remember the beginning of the story, when God created humans and gave them the vocation of being his co-regents of creation, to be priests in the temple he has created, mediating and taking care of the creation. That was their mission and they were free to take express it in any way they saw fit, so long as they did not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and circumvent God’s wisdom, which is only given to human beings through relationship with him. They were “naked and unashamed” – which is like the freedom a toddler has when he strips naked in the front yard and runs through the sprinklers – a joyous freedom to experience the life God intends in its fullness.
Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate and survivor of the Holocaust, died this past week and there were a lot of rightfully reflective articles about his life and work in the media. If you’ve read his work, you know that it is powerful because it came through the lens of intense suffering and hope.
One of the stories that has circulated about Wiesel was that one night in the dark corner of a barracks in the Auschwitz concentration camp, three rabbis decided to put God on trial. They charged God with working against the covenant made with his chosen people and accuse him of being the one responsible for their suffering. Wiesel said he witnessed the trial, which ended by not calling God guilty, but rather, in the Hebrew chayav, which means, “He owes us something.” In 1977, Wiesel wrote a play based on that night titled, “The Trial of God.”
It’s not unprecedented for people to put God on trial, of course. In 2007, an agnostic state senator Ernie Chambers from Nebraska filed a law suit against God charging him with “making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of the plaintiff…” The suit goes on to blame God for all natural disasters, diseases, and death that befalls people.