2nd Sunday before Advent – evening
Sunday 17th November 2019
2 before Advent – evening
Matt.13. 1-9; 18-23
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Can most of you remember the prayer from Compline that goes,
Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.?
It comes from the first letter of Peter in the NT and is a traditional prayer for protection that keeps prowling lions at bay during the night. There is an obvious connection to the incredible and highly entertaining story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den that we heard as our first lesson this evening. It is one of those bible stories that is memorable and dramatic – children often adore it – anxious to learn whether Daniel will be eaten alive, or be protected by God.
It is a story about a hero whose faith overcomes all things, even protecting him from the jaws of a hungry predator. At it’s heart however is a simple message. This is a story about what faith can do.
Daniel is good and honest. He is a God-fearing man, but he is beset by the corruption and hatred of those around him. They want only to trick him and destroy his life and the influence and power they see him exercising at court. But Daniel is described as “faithful”, and the evil desires of those who are jealous of him come to nought at first, so they have to try something else. The only way they can get at Daniel is through his faith in the God of the Israelites and Daniel of course is an exile, a captive foreigner living under an imperial power. So his enemies seek to undermine his faith by making the observance of it a criminal offence. Daniel resists his adversaries prowling around him, and he ends up in the middle of the lions’ den, putting his life utterly in God’s hands. Will he survive the night?
In his teaching, Jesus often talks about the power of faith. “Your faith has made you well” he says on more than one occasion to those who come for healing. He speaks of faith even as small as a mustard seed, yet having the potential to grow into something wonderful – to move mountains or shelter all the birds of the air. In the parable of the sower, Jesus again speaks of how faith may bear much fruit. Once again there is the image of an ‘evil one’ prowling around snatching away the seed that is planted in the heart. There are other temptations too of course; the cares of the world, times of trouble and persecution, the lure of wealth and power – these things are like roaring lions seeking their prey, ready to gobble up the first few green shoots of faith that emerge from the soil.
But only those seeds planted in good, fertile loam or a steadfast heart, are able to flourish. Daniel is one such person in whom faith is strong. He has power to withstand whatever is thrown at him and in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is described as one of the historic heroes of the faith. But even more important than heroes is the greater promise that is in Jesus himself – which will make us all more than conquerors. Christ is the sign of God’s faithfulness to each one of us. In him we find the strength to nurture our faith and let it grow and blossom and shine: in him alone we are protected from the evil one and the vicious predators without and within.
We are all sometimes challenged by things that beset and besiege us. These things may not take the form of a prowling lion, but there is plenty in today’s world to undermine and threaten our faith – hatred, malice, gossip, persecution, corruption, scepticism, apathy, to give but a few examples. And in some places in the world, Christians are still persecuted for their faith. As they are steadfast and witness to the living God, we must honour them by being steadfast in our prayers and confident in the power of faith to achieve much.
It takes courage sometimes to be a Christian in the world today, wherever we are. We can, though, be assured that God is steadfast in his promises to us.
At the end of our first story and after a worrying night, King Darius awakes to find Daniel alive and well. So he makes a proclamation to the whole world about the God whose steadfast love endures for ever and who saved Daniel from the mouth of the lions.
Thanks be to God for his faithfulness and his steadfast love for us, which is new every morning and endures for ever and ever. Amen.