As we have heard from a number of prophets the past couple of months I have mentioned several times what happens when a culture or society turns from God and focuses on themselves. The Assyrians and then the Babylonians come in and thrash you and take you away from your place and into exile in a foreign land. That’s where we find our cast of characters in today’s reading. The Babylonians have come to the promised land, sacked Jerusalem, and taken its residents by force to live in Babylon. They have no security, very little identity, nor do they have the connections that come from being in the same place for a long time.
The Jews exiled in Babylon had been there a few years and had made a place for themselves as best they could. They had births, deaths, weddings, families, and all the activities that make up a life. They lived in relatively calm times though as a religious and ethnic minority they were always under threat of violence.
Which is the precise point we join in their story today. There’s a number of things going on and reading the entire book is a worthy read. The upshot is this. Esther is an orphan raised by Mordecai. Both are Jews. Even though she is a Jew, Esther ends up as the Queen after the King kicks the former queen to the curb for insulting him.
Now, Mordecai has the king’s special favor because Mordecai exposed a plot to assassinate the king. When the king promotes Haman to be a top advisor Haman wants everyone else to bow down to him. With his special favor from the king, Mordecai chooses not to. This annoys Haman and since he can’t deal with Mordecai directly, one on one, he decides to reign down destruction on ALL of the Jews. These are the kinds of things that happen when the majority gets mad at a religious and ethnic minority.
Reigning destruction down on the Jews. Let’s think about what that means for a minute. Here in Nebraska we throw phrases around like getting destroyed on the football field and we don’t like how that feels. Imagine if it were something a little more important than a football game where we were at risk of literally being destroyed as a people. Like Colorado has decided to reign down destruction on all of Nebraska! That’s where the Jews find themselves and where Esther comes back into the picture.
As the queen, Esther can make the case to the king not to allow Haman to reign down destruction on the Jews. There’s just one teeny tiny little problem. To speak with the king you must be invited into his royal presence. If you show up uninvited the penalty is death. Unless the king decides not to execute you but I gather this doesn’t happen often as everyone is reasonably certain Esther will be killed if she makes the case without being invited. How would you respond to this situation?
What would we put at risk to do the right thing? Queen Esther was willing to risk her life for the opportunity to save the Jewish people from being destroyed by an angry man with petty grievances. How often are we called on to stand up for what is right? How often are we prepared to respond with an appropriate answer? That’s the part I hate. I find myself needing to respond to a given situation and I come up with the right thing to say about three days later.
It still begs the question, what would we be willing to risk if it was up to us? It’s fair to say that most of us aren’t called to risk our lives to the right thing. I do thank God for that. Christ was called to give his life for us for the forgiveness of our sins and we’re grateful for that. But I don’t think most of us will be called on to risk life and limb. That said, I think many of us have opportunities to verbally defend those who are oppressed by other people, in whatever fashion that plays out. Are we willing to defend them with our words? Are we ready with the right words? Now is the time to say the right words.
Conversely, there are times we are called on to remain silent. We know from fifth and eighth commandments that there are times we may feel like we must absolutely say something in response to a situation or comment we’ve heard. Are we ready to not say the wrong words? Now is the time to not say the wrong words.
The truth is, it is up to us to be the leaders in doing the right thing. Like Esther, we are called for just such a time as this. Followers of Christ need to lead the way in doing the right thing. You may have noticed over the years that I’m not telling you what to think or what to do. That’s not my job, even though I usually have strong opinions about most things. And in truth we don’t always know exactly what the right answer is so we disagree on this and that.
But as a preacher I see my job as telling you, as best I can sort out, what it is that God wants. The bible isn’t always crystal clear to me what it is God wants on all the details but I think on the big items it isn’t terribly complicated. Once we kind of collectively decide on what it is that God wants then you have to apply it to your life. Or not. That is the bottom line to all of this.
As the fall season winds down and darkness comes earlier and earlier for a few more weeks we look and hope for the light. As the shopping season shifts into high gear we look and hope for a way to get through the season. As we work through the season of Advent look forward to the birth of Christ. Christ, through us, is the light of hope that shines.