What a great story. Beloved by generations. Daniel and the LION’s den. And there’s a reason it has been beloved by generations.
You have an interesting set of dynamics going on here. The players are Daniel, a trusted advisor to the king but a foreigner one way or the other. King Darius, king of Persia and pretty much the big head honcho over everything and then you have the lower officials known as presidents and the satraps. They’re the political power base in Persia and have a lot of influence with the King. Rounding out the star-studded cast you have some hungry LIONs. You know, to keep it interesting.
Daniel the foreigner isn’t trusted by the presidents and the satraps because Daniel has this God of Abraham thing going on that doesn’t make any sense to them. Daniel is a faithful believer in the God of the covenant that has saved them from the flood and from slavery in Egypt. The presidents and satraps are in the ‘many gods on demand’ group of people who have a god for every kind of thing as it comes up. One God now and forever doesn’t have any kind of connection to them. How can ONE god take care of everything? So they don’t trust Daniel at all.
The presidents and satraps give us a pretty good example of what happens with group paranoia. They have a lot of power by virtue of position rather than anything to do with skill. Since they’re not necessarily well versed in effective leadership techniques they’re very and deeply insecure. What happens to insecure people with a lot of unearned power to wield? They see conspiracies around every corner and they work to neutralize these threats by any means necessary.
In Daniel’s case they’ve created a group-think situation that is pointing a very accusing finger at Daniel. Not because he’s done anything wrong but because he’s an outsider with different beliefs than what they hold AND because King Darius trusts him. Not to mention Daniel is very good at what he does. THAT’s not going to cause any kind of insecurity flare ups, is it? So, like most groups who feel threatened by an outsider they band together in a mealy mouthed plot to grab the King’s ear and turn him against Daniel.
Daniel’s faithfulness is pretty impressive because he knows how this plays out. He knows that if he continues to worship the God of Abraham, the God of the covenant, then he will be thrown to the lions. But he keeps worshipping God anyways.
This isn’t a story that suggests we should test God with our faith. Remember the woman who tried to pet a tiger last year at the Omaha zoo? That didn’t work out so well for her. I’ve no idea if she was a person of faith but let’s face it, sticking your and in a wild cat’s cage is just not a good idea. We’re not called to test God or our faith. Nowhere in the Bible that I’m aware of calls for us to test God or our faith. Quite the opposite, really. Jesus says specifically in Matthew and in Luke that we are NOT to test God. We’re called to love other people. We’re called to serve other people. We’re called to be people of God. Not to waste time testing our faith or trying to look good with tests.
Daniel’s story is an allegory that shows us the outcome of relying on lies and insecurity rather than truth and trust, specifically the truth of God and trusting in God. It isn’t so much a contest of surviving in the lion’s den because of God’s good favor as it is a challenge of staying faithful to God and believing in God’s presence no matter our circumstances.
I want to suspend our responses to LION for just a minute while I tell a story. The title of this morning’s sermon, The Lion’s Mouth Opens, is a line from Bob Dylan’s poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”. Dylan penned this poem about his friend who had Huntingtons Disease or HD for short. It is also the title of a film short on HBO about Lucy Walker and her experience of waiting for HD test results. HD is a genetic neurodegenerative disease that has no cure nor even anything to slow it down or make it easier. Basically, HD is passed down from a parent with HD to a child and if you have HD you lose your physical capabilities and then along the way you lose your cognitive and memory abilities. It’s one of those diseases that is an unrelenting one way ticket to the end.
About ten years ago I found out I was at risk for HD because my brother tested positive for it. Which explained what happened to my mom in the days before a test was available. I lived with the bullseye of HD on my back for nearly a decade. Logic would suggest getting tested right away but it isn’t quite so simple though the details are for another conversation.
After my brother died two years back I made the decision to get tested. I went to the testing center in November 2014 to learn what was in store. The test is nothing more than a blood draw that is sent off for DNA testing but the stress level is pretty high. My blood pressure usually runs around 110/65 but when they checked it at the testing center it was 156/85.
I spend the next three weeks waiting and wondering. It was if I was with the lions and the lions mouth was open but it hadn’t yet begun to close on me. Then, two years ago next week, I found out I tested negative for HD.
The relief is indescribable.
I tell this story not to suggest that God answered my prayers because in some fashion I had earned having my prayers answered. I don’t think God had much of an active role in the results. As a genetic disease those results were determined long ago and I don’t think God visits Huntingtons disease on anyone. It is simply a genetic mutation that happens.
I tell this story to suggest that whatever happens in our life, whatever circumstances befall us, whenever we feel like the lions mouth is open, that God is present with us. God was present with Daniel. God was present with me those three weeks I was looking into the open lions mouth. God is present with each and every one of us.
In a day when there is so much made about a God that rewards us, blesses us is how it is usually phrased, that rewards us for being good, Daniel’s story in the lion’s den is a good reminder that God’s presence is something we can depend on. Good things happen, bad things happen, we all have good days and weeks we all have days and weeks that challenge us to our very core. The one thing that we can depend on without fail is God standing with us and holding us up at times.
That is Advent. God coming to us in the human form of Jesus Christ. That is Advent. Immanuel. God with us.