Standing firm

..Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.. “I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed… In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He… was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and those of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.2,11,13-14)

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back.. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone, ‘Watch!’.”

(Mk 13.32-37)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Rom 15.4-6,13)

It is good for us, living in the prosperity and peace of western Europe in the 21st century to give thanks and rejoice in the freedoms we enjoy. It is not good however, to presume that these are remotely normal or common experiences for humankind. History – if we will pay attention to it- tells of centuries of struggle against poverty, famine, war, and oppression. If we will listen today from all around the world, we hear the ongoing cries of those in bondage in modern slavery, those dying of hunger and disease, those whose lives are being bombed and raped into shreds, those who have no freedom of faith, those who are so desperate that they have enslaved themselves to evil in order to survive.

The human heart is incurable, apart from the salvation and transformation offered by God in Christ Jesus, and from that heart comes the pollution and pain of our planet. We should not be surprised by the latest upsurge in aggression and violent nationalism; by the strengthening of control by totalitarian states; by the enthronement of ‘self’ in our culture; by the naked greed of capitalism and the dreadful implications of its free expression. All these things come about because human beings are fundamentally broken. It is foolish in the extreme to believe that education, improved healthcare, or any other intervention can actually make a lasting change to the root causes. As followers of Jesus, we share the good news that there is hope – and ultimately that there will be a new heaven and new earth, where all that our spirits cry out for – justice, beauty, freedom – will be fully realised. But we also know that until Jesus returns, the powers of darkness will continue to exercise their violent dominion and wreak havoc among us. This is not pessimism, or defeatism, it is a realistic and biblical understanding of history. The visions of men like Daniel are a glimpse given by God to his servant – and thus to us – of the pattern of history until God winds all things up and makes them new.

The visions are wild and frightening, Daniel is often left weak with terror and bewildered, but they show the ultimate realities which are at work and which we forget at our peril. Daniel’s visions appalled him, and rightly so. We too should be on our knees as we acknowledge the grim realities around us. But, we also know that Daniel got up from his knees, and went on to serve his community faithfully, prayerfully, and effectively for the remainder of his days. He took the revelations as motivation for persevering in the work to which he was called – not a reason to curl up and hide from life. He had reason to hope, to stand firm in the face of threats and trials, to live as one accountable for his use of time and talents to a supreme Lord. So do we!

You are the Living God and you endure for ever; your kingdom will not be destroyed, and your dominion never end. You rescue and save; you perform signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. Have mercy on your servants as we live in the midst of time, that we might be faithful in spite of fear or threat, and might have peace as we trust in you. We know and believe that you are on the throne, and at the right time, you will return and make all things new. We are on the winning side, Lord, let us trust this truth when we cannot see it, and when the powers of darkness are at their height. Let us, like Daniel, get up and go about the work which you have given us, holding forth the gospel of Christ to all who will listen, and fearing nothing because we fear and worship you, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

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