The Fiery Furnace and Christmas

The book of Daniel challenges the “normal” perspective of the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, God addressed the people or culture of Israel as a whole. From the exodus, through the wilderness wanderings  up to the divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, God interacted with a unified culture: kings and prophets, merchants and farmers. “You shall have no other god before Me.”

In the book of Daniel this changed. The Jews who are in exile in Babylon are not the dominant culture, but rather a small minority. A king like Nebuchadnezzar might come to recognize the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when God delivers them from the fiery furnace, but he does not force the whole of his society to conform to Jewish culture. Instead the stories of Daniel show how the Jews resisted the religious rules of the dominant culture, even when it might cost them their lives. The Jews in exile had entered a multicultural world.

I wonder if this has a lesson for Christians in the season of Christmas. I know that some Christians are upset that the dominant culture gives only token acknowledgment to the religious basis for Christmas, replacing the manager and baby Jesus with the Christmas tree and Santa Claus.  There are some Christians who long for a more “pure” holiday, when school concerts could sing “Silent Night”” and public prayers could refer to Jesus Christ as Lord. But our current reality is more like the Jews in exile in Babylon than as citizens in the Kingdom of Judah. We might long to live in a monolithic culture in which society promotes our spiritual vision, but we do not.  We live in a multicultural world, with competing worldviews and behaviors.

What this means is that Christians need to do an even better job of telling the great true story of God and Christmas. The book of Daniel was written for the discouraged, scattered Jews to encourage them in the exile and beyond.  The story stated that God still ruled in Babylon, even when kings and other officials denied Him.  The story continues to proclaim that God still rules in America, even if our officials remain silent. And like Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, we can serve in government, schools, or media, knowing that they are not “god,” and that we may have moments to bear witness to the God who can deliver, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus, let me bear witness to you as my deliverer.

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