Blessing Track”: I’d Rather Have Jesus, by Loretta Lynn, https://youtu.be/R8nZTosRN7U
A new song to see us through the fire
The lessons for today include the so-called “Song of the Three Young Men.” (Canticle 13, in the Prayer Book, pg. 90). This praising song was included in the Greek version of the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3. It is believed that it was the song that the three young men sung when they were thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing to Marduk, the Babylonian God. And, as we know, the three young men came out of the furnace “not even singed, and their tunics not burnt,” (Daniel 3.27).
The Canticle for today refers to a painful time for the people of Israel. They had been were exiled in a far away country, forced to adopt a different language, culture, and religion.
Many children had been born while in exile in Babylon, through no fault of their own. Those who had caused the fall of the kingdom of Israel and led the nation to a painful exile were all gone. Now it was up to the new generation to pick up the pieces of the sins of generations past.
To make things worse, the ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar, after many years of conquests, now was interested in pacifying and uniting his kingdom, as the greatest empire of his time. To that end he asserted his figure as king, coopted potential leaders from their defeated nations, and set up Babylon’s local god, Marduk, as the center of the religious life of his dominions.
While Nebuchadnezzar reigned, Babylon entered a period of peace and prosperity like no other place in the world. Its famous gardens in the desert were something to be admired throughout the world. They were Number One.
Th exiles were led to believe that crying by the rivers of Babylon and longing for their homeland was pointless. Further, was there any better place than to live in the greatest nation of the world? Nebuchadnezzar’s success and the prosperity of his time proved that the gods were with him.
Cue the Chaldeans, ancient enemies of Judah and who were not happy having the Jews enjoying their time in Babylon. So, they instigated the King to force everyone to worship Marduk, or else.
When the three young men refused, the King ordered them thrown into a fiery furnace. To Nebuchadnezzar’s surprise, they came out unscathed. After realizing that Yahweh, the God of Israel was more powerful that his Marduk, he ordered the kingdom to worship Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty.
The context of the reading is eerily similar to what we have been experiencing during the last months with Covid-19, and now with the unrest and turmoil of the last weeks.
Whatever the circumstances that have brought us our plight, it is up to our present generation to pick up the pieces. Like the exiles in Babylon, we cannot be un-exiled. Further, singing and longing for the “good old days” is pointless. And, literally and figuratively, we have been thrown into a furnace. What should we do? What should we say?
It is interesting to note that if God had wanted, He could have extinguished the furnace. Still, it would have been a miracle. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego where thrown into the fire with no reasonable way out of the ordeal. What did they do?
First, they acknowledged their plight, and they reckoned that it was real. Second, even when they personally were not guilty of being in their predicament, they nevertheless committed themselves to their God. And then, they opened their eyes and saw that God was with them – in the heart of the furnace.
Like the three young men, we need to reckon where we are. We cannot un-past the past. But we can walk out of this united into transforming the future, looking for the Angel of the Lord, who will not extinguish the fire, but get us through. And, as we move forward, the peace of God which passes all understanding will extinguish the flames that beset us today.
Then, we should praise God, from where we are, for there is no one else able to take us from where we are. Let us not forget how Nebuchadnezzar and his empire ended. Let us put God back “on the throne of His majesty,” and not try to bring Him to the sideline of our own choosing.
“Set things right,” commands St Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:11. And nothing can be set right, unless one accepts that even if one cannot quite see it, there is stuff that needs to be set right. “Listen to what God has to say,” and not to what we wish to hear, insisted Paul. To a divided community he urged, “Encourage each other,” and not combat those who have different ideas. And then, and only then, “The God of love and peace would be with them,” helping them to start building a new future for their community. And so it be with us.
Angel of Salvation: You walked with your servants in the midst of the fire. Set our souls ablaze with love so that we may walk out united and strengthened to build up a kingdom of love, peace, justice, grace, and joy. Amen.