Advent 1 Hope
Daniel 3: 1-30.
Here is something I want you to think about.
What if television can tell us what the psychological state of the country is?
Here’s my proposition.
What if we instinctively seek out what we need?
For instance music...
Music is cheaper to buy than at any other time, most groups and musicians can’t make money through selling their music because there are so many illegal downloads.
Where the money is in music is in live performances. You get these huge concerts with thousands of people. The stadium is so big that if you are at the back you can’t physically see the artists. They watch them through huge screens throughout the stadium. So why are these concerts so popular when you can’t even see the artist in person?
Because people have a need of community, they seek it out where they can.
This gives them the feeling of community, of being part of something bigger than themselves without having to have the actual commitment of community.
Or Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is a programme that is huge throughout the world. It has dragons and wizards and is all very silly. But why is it so popular? Maybe because so many people’s lives are so dull. They see a need of purpose and meaning in their lives, of the feeling that their lives should mean something, that their lives are an adventure. And if they can’t make their lives significant then they will watch people pretend that their lives are significant. Their heart has the thrill of significance without the work that it takes to make our life mean something.
Or reality TV programmes. I don't know about you but all these reality TV programmes seem to lack any reality. What is real about sticking people in a jungle and watching them do things that they would never normally do? Or putting people on a Love Island and seeing how they are forced together? Or following very rich people around Chelsea and think that is normal behaviour?
A real reality TV programme would be watching my wife do the ironing while she is watching NCIS. And during the adverts she would be flicking the TV. It would be as boring as anything. That is reality. And to be honest for most of us that is reality, just doing mundane things. But we don't want our reality to be that, so we create ‘reality TV’ that isn't real and then we can pretend that our life is as eventful as those on the TV. The next day we go into work and talk with excitement about all the things they got up to in the jungle as if we were there, part of it, it was part of our lives, our reality.
In the most extreme cases? Go to any lock down psychiatric ward. There you will find people who can’t face their life at all and they have created a fiction where they are someone else. They are so unhappy with the person they have become that they try to be someone else. And have you noticed how often they believe they are someone they believe is important; Jesus, or Churchill, or Napoleon. They have a need to be someone of significance, someone with power and influence, and someone important...because they are going mad believing that they may be insignificant.
We often search for what we lack in life.
And at this time of year we light candles. Because deep down we know there is a lot of darkness.
And these candles aren't just candles. They have significance...hope, joy, peace, love...maybe because our world has a deficit of such things.
Ironically the last candle is the one for Christmas day and that represents Jesus. Or maybe that isn't ironic at all. Maybe the truth is that after all the stresses of trying to get the day right, or maybe all the disappointments of it not being what we want it to be...the one person that seems distant and ignored on Christmas Day, is the one person it was named after...Jesus Christ. That’s why we light the candle, because we know we lack his presence on the day.
Here’s the thing.
It is OK to have lacks in our life.
It is OK for our life to be missing something.
And it is even OK to be seeking that thing out.
Our lives are always a thing of balance.
If we spend time with our wives then that means we don't spend that time with our mates. So after a while those relationships begin to drift, unless we then spend time to maintain those relationships.
But in doing that we might spend less time at the bowling club, or the golf club, or the Chums. And then someone in that club notices that and asks why we seem distant. So we take note of that and make a special effort to go out on nights out with them. But in doing that we don't have time with our grandchildren, or our brother and sisters, or our parents.
And so we then make a special effort to see them.
But if we do that then we might spend less time with ourselves. We realise that we need some space to ourselves just to ground ourselves, just to recharge our batteries. So we decide to go off on retreat or go off on walks by ourselves, but in doing that we spend less time with our wives so that relationship begins to slip.
And so the rotation goes back to the beginning and starts again.
And that is OK.
We spend our life trying to balance our needs.
What our passage here today asks of us, is if we are doing it right.
Because I think we have a hope, a hope that most folk have. And that is that our lives have meaning, that we are significant, and that that significance and meaning is within community. To see that we are not isolated and alone. But to do that takes a lot of time and effort and reflection. And it’s easy to try to ignore all that stuff and find cheap substitutes.
Now the temptation would be to look at our passage today and look at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as our example. And we just say, ’Just be like them. Trust God and everything will be all right.’
Instead I want us to use Nebuchadnezzar as our example because I think we have a lot more to learn from him than from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
So here’s the main lesson.
We need to know our place.
Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we take ourselves far too seriously.
Here is a man who was definitely taking himself far too seriously.
He puts a statue of himself 96 feet tall and 9 foot wide in the middle of nowhere and then gets everyone to go out into the middle of nowhere to worship it. His problem isn't that his ego is too big; his problem is that his ego is too fragile, and it needs bolstered.
When a child is feeling insecure and needing affirmation it basically does something that says, ‘Look at me.’ How insecure is this guy that he builds a 96 foot statue and says ’Look at me’?
If we truly know our place then we don’t need to feel insecure.
There are a few ministers I admire. The ones I do admire seem to have everything sorted out. It’s not that their churches are perfect, far from it. But they have a better perspective on things.
They can say, ‘These areas we are doing well. These areas we are rubbish in and need to do a lot of work, these bits are a bit in between.’
There will be bits of their ministry that they are very clear about, but equally they will admit that there are bits in their ministry that they don't have the foggiest what to do about it.
But here’s the thing...they don't get het up about it, or defensive about it, or proud about it.
And the reason they are so sorted is that they know their place.
They are not the MINISTER and everything is going to fall apart of they don't have the vision or the strength or the skills to sort out the churches, or the worlds, problems.
Their anchor in this world is not their ministry. Their ministry isn't even the most important thing in the world. The most important thing in their world is that they know they are loved by God. They are a child of God, and they have relationships with others that should reflect that love.
Their motivation then isn't to do ministry because it's their job, their motivation is to do things with God because they love God, and if that means doing ministry then so be it.
They don't love their family, or their congregation or their parish because they have to, they do it because they want to, because God does.
However I truly believe that God so loved the world that he didn't send a committee, so there is nothing that I need to do to love committee meetings any more than I do.
We need to get into perceptive who we are.
We are not gods, we do not need to try to control our world as if we were.
How do we know when we are not getting it right?
Maybe looking at how reasonable we are?
When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are told they will be flung into the furnace they are so reasonable. Personally I would have been freaking out a bit. I’ll admit that. I would have been quaking in my boots.
But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are so level headed. ‘We are not going to do anything to stop you because there is nothing we can do to stop you. But we live for God. If God saves us then fine, if not then that’s fine too. But we are not going to betray what we stand for. God has given us a life that is meaningful, fellowships that are supportive, a heart that is kind, we will not betray God now.’
But Nebuchadnezzar freaks out. He lost his temper, his face turned red with anger.
Why is he getting so het up?
This guy has all the power. This guy has so much power he hasn’t even called them by name. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego aren't their real names. Their real names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. But the empire gave them new slaves names that they had to answer by; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. This is a king that has so much power that the can change your identity, so much power that he can deny that you are worthy of your own name. He doesn't need to learn your name, you are not important enough that he needs to remember your name, He will call you whatever he wants.
So why are so-called insignificant people getting under his skin?
Because they are at peace with who they are...and he isn't.
So if we are freaking out all the time, maybe it’s not a sign that we aren’t at peace with others, maybe it's a sign that we are not at peace with ourselves.
So where does that leave us.
Funnily enough I think it leaves us where we need to be.
There is great darkness in the world.
There are so many pressures that we need to face, so many calls on our time.
And we can get suckered into believing that we can sort it all out, that we are a wee god and we have enough strength to sort it all out.
What’s worse, when we realise we don't have enough strength to change the world to be the way we want it to be, then we have all the guilt that we have failed, because we might not have the strength of a god, but we have all the responsibilities of a god.
But the darkness isn't everything.
There is a light that shines in the darkness.
And this is a light of hope.
If we are not a god, maybe there is a God, and he can remind us that we can't do all things, but we can do some things. And if we follow him, if we take his guidance, if we rely on his strength and wisdom, then maybe sometimes we can even do the right things, and things can maybe change for the better. And that ‘maybe’ leads to hope.
For the truth is that we are never judged by the sum of what we do, even if we do create a 96 foot statue, in the end it is just a 96 foot statue. How much time would it take to build something like that, and then someone else buys it on e-bay.
We are the sum of our relationships, and love is beyond cost.
If we can get that bit right, then everything else will sort itself out with time.