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Sunday, 03 December 2017

December 3, 2017

The Fiery Furnace, Daniel - Advent 1

The Fiery Furnace: Daniel – Advent I

December 3, 2017

Daniel 3:1, 8-28


The movement has died down a bit, but not long ago there were people promoting the idea that the Ten Commandments should be posted in courthouses, schools and other public places.  The basic reason was that they believed we need to show support for God’s law.


I don’t have anything against the Ten Commandments.  If everyone followed the commandments, the world would be a better place.  From a Christian standpoint, the Ten Commandments give us a better understanding of what it means when Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbors as ourselves.


There is a problem with saying the Ten Commandments are important to us.  First of all, it might be good if we really know what the Ten Commandments are.  Christian and Jewish groups haven’t even been able to agree on the numbering.  And a recent survey found that more people could name the ingredients of a Big Mac than could name the Ten Commandments.


But while God might be disappointed by the fact Christians can’t name the Ten Commandments, he might be even more disappointed in people who claim to value the Commandments but don’t follow them. 


If trusting something more than anything or anyone else makes that thing our god, is God really the god of most people? How are we doing with the not taking God’s name in vain commandment?  About one quarter of our members are here on Sunday morning.  I guess we do have the online option so some may be worshiping that way. Still . . .


And then there are the commandments about how we treat our neighbors; honoring parents, not stealing, not committing adultery, not bearing false witness, not coveting.  We can claim the Commandments are important, but God might be more impressed with following them than posting them in public places.


In 1956 the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  It was a time of concern over the threat of Communism. President Eisenhower and Congress decided that those words would separate us from the godless Communists.  But what do we mean by the words, “under God”? Do they reinforce a connection to God?  Or do they mean that the country and its government are secondary to God, that allegiance to God comes first?


Daniel and his three friends were taken captive from their homes in Israel and brought to Babylon.  The four friends were thought to be among the best and the brightest of the Hebrew youth.  They were chosen to serve King Nebuchadnezzar.  Their names were changed from Hebrew names to Chaldean names, names that reflected the king’s desire to mark them as servants of him and his gods.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego resisted.  The first resistance was fairly minor.  They refused to follow the Babylonian diet and insisted on eating a Hebrew diet.  They were given the chance to prove the benefits of their traditional diet.  They proved that the Hebrew diet made them healthier and stronger.  (Some of you will be disappointed to know the diet consisted of mostly fruits, grains and vegetables.)


Today’s lesson finds Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego resisting again.  The King had created a giant golden statue and demanded that everyone worship the statue. They refused.  The three young men declared their faith and trust in the God of the Hebrews, the one true God, and declared they would rather be thrown into the fiery furnace than worship or serve any other gods.


What makes us feel safe?  What comforts us and assures us that we will be okay?  Whatever that is is our god.  It could be people.  It could be a lifestyle. It could be money or possessions. If we place our faith and trust in something, it is our god.


My favorite quote by Martin Luther comes from the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”.  “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse, thought life be wrenched away, they (the powers of evil) cannot win the day.  The kingdom is our forever.” It is God alone who can make us feel safe and assure us that we will be okay.


We know we have a place in God’s kingdom because of his Son.  Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego were not alone in the fiery furnace.  The Bible doesn’t say who was with them, but whoever it was, they were saved from death and the powers of evil.  


Today is the first Sunday in Advent. We prepare for the Christmas celebration.  We remember the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  Jesus came to let us know, through his life, death and resurrection, that we are not alone.  He promises us life beyond this life and freedom from sin and the powers of evil.  Sometimes our lives can seem like a fiery furnace, but we are not and never will be alone.  The forgiveness, hope and love we have in Jesus lets us know we can never be separated from God.


I’m not going to give you a Ten Commandments quiz or question whether you are following them, although I recommend that we do.  I do hope and pray that the words “under God” would somehow lead this country to care for all citizens of this nation and people of this world as God desires.  May our lesson today, the story of three brave men who refused to worship any other God, challenge us to worship and serve God above all else.  


And may this season of Advent remind us why we worship the God whose Son came, is here and will come again and seals the promise we are now and forever in God’s loving care. AMEN