Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “took a knee” by refusing to take a knee. They were ordered to bow down to the golden idol, the symbol of the most powerful nation in the world at that time. And they decided to sit that one out, to “take a knee,” they decided to break the law peacefully, but say no to the king, and they were ready to face whatever the consequences were for their protest-ant deeds.
Now, I can’t help but think of Colin Kaepernick here — the former SF 49ers QB who decided to take a knee during the national anthem last year, not at a command to bow down to the state, like in this bible story, but rather, as he states, as a protest against racial injustice across the nation. And whether you support him or not, I’m guessing we can all agree that he knew well that there could be serious consequences for his actions. Protesting is always inconvenient, disruptive-even-infuriating and calculated...and it often has dire consequences for the protester. This is definitely not a perfect parallel with our bible story here, but there are some things that are the same between #7 and these OT 3: mainly, that they all knew that their protest would have dire consequences. In Kaepernick’s case, it could mean his football career — although his numbers were really slipping too. But as of this year, he’s not been picked up. In S, M, and A’s case: it meant their lives too — but this time, it was literally their lives. It meant the fiery furnace. Both are cases of “taking a knee” for what they believed in, and facing the consequences.
And can you believe that King Nebuchadnezzar was so juvenile, so insecure, that he not only felt he needed to kill 3 little protesters, the story says, he was so insulted/threatened by them and wanted to flex his power that he turned the flames up 7x? Can you imagine a leader so insecure? He’s the most powerful man in the world, why give these powerless foreigners — these little Jews in the midst of the Babylonian world super-power — any attention at all? Who cares about what they think, what they do, and who they worship?
(Well, it was not a free country back then.)
Friends in Christ: this is a powerful, inconveniently political, incarnation and resurrection story — deep in the Old Testament and right smack at the beginning of Advent!
Are you ready? They committed an act of civil disobedience.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were foreigners. They were Jews, in captivity to Babylon (names forced upon them) now being asked to bow down to — what was for them — a false god, a statue of the state. And they refused.
How are you being asked to pay homage at least, if not commanded to bow down and worship false gods in our nation and world and community these days? Are there any parallels to this powerful story of protesting and faith in your life?
Even in the face of immense power and intimidation, there is still humor in this text. You can almost hear the prophet Daniel smirking as he narrates the pomp and circumstance of Babylon, can’t you? [silly voice] “[I] the king have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue…”
Comedy is resistance too: As soon as the king is mocked, as soon as the glorious Empire becomes the butt of jokes, as soon as writers and the artists in the land start smirking, even with incredible power, “the powers” lose real power.
And what do S, M, A respond calmly? “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter.”
It’s like a prelude to Jesus standing before Pilate: “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you!” [calmly] “You have no power over me,” Jesus responds in protest and in peace.
Nebuchadnezzar goes through the roof! He fires up the oven 7x hotter (to match his anger?) and throws his biggest, toughest guards at them. And they’re not shaken in the least.
God gives us the courage to do what’s right. What if that even means an act of civil disobedience? Martin Luther King, Jr. references this text in his famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” And Martin Luther of Germany, who we’ve really been studying these past months in our Bible Study (really LSC study), talked in our chapter just last Monday about taking a peaceful stand even against the state if it is in conflict with the Gospel… (from our book, p. 192)
“In the relatively rare cases where Christians need to defy the law in order to follow God, the Lutheran reformers pointed to Acts 5:29: ‘We must obey God rather than human authority.’ This scriptural conscience clause supports people standing up for what is right and faithful...
“This obedience to the gospel was the basis for Luther’s resistance…As a theologian and pastor, he believed that he and all Christians need to be accountable to the Bible and the wider church … he did not advocate violent actions against priests or church leaders... Although he disobeyed Emperor Charles by continuing to teach, Luther repeatedly emphasized his desire for peace. In the decades that followed, Luther and his coworkers often appealed to Emperor Charles for the legal right to reform their churches in peaceful, gospel-centered ways.
“Citizenship remains a rich way to live out Christian faith. When we pay taxes, encourage good government and public service, work to curb injustice, and support fair living conditions for all,
we are promoting public peace, helping people get their daily bread, and caring unconditionally for the neighbors around us.” (By Heart: Conversations with Luther's Small Catechism, Augsburg Fortress, 2017, p. 192.)
God always calls us to stand up in the face of injustice.
Finally, the great power in this story is that God with them through the fire. God doesn’t get them out of the fiery furnace. But God is with them through it. This is the incarnation, this is the celebration of Advent. God draws near to us, sisters and brothers in Christ, in these dark days, in these winter months, God promises — not to get us out of the fiery furnaces of our “knee-taking for the Gospel” but — to be with us through the consequences.
What are you being called to stand up for? To take a knee for? How is God calling you to trust ever more in this Advent season? For God draws near to us. God does not abandon us in our trials and challenges. Hope is still alive. A tiny shoot grows out of the stump of Jesse, remember?
God is with us through the flames, sisters and brothers in Christ! God blesses and keeps us, and at the last we too will live. Even if we die! We too will stand with one another in the morning, in the bliss of God’s everlasting arms. On that bright shore, we know that God raises us too. Lifts us to life and abundant life, even now, even today! Just knowing how our story ends, we too can live and work and act and pray with joy and peace, even amid the evil threats and powers of this day. God is with us — watch, prepare, rejoice, behold.
Will you pray with me: God give us the courage to stand up or kneel down for what is right. And thank you, for never leaving us as we do. AMEN.