As I mentioned before, we are in the third in our sermon series inspired by C.S. Lewis’ book, The Silver Chair. In our story last week, Jill and Eustace were in a castle of giants trying to find a way out before the end up as the main course at the Autumn Feast. As they are running for their lives, chased by giants and their dogs, the children and their guide find a crevice and block it up with rocks behind them. They are well and truly in the dark, and then they are captured by creatures called Earthmen and taken on a long journey through the dark. Jill and Eustace are doing what God wants—and it has led them into a dark place, and then it seems the darkness will never end. Lewis even writes, “And the worst thing about it was that you began to feel as if you had always lived…in that darkness, and to wonder whether sun and blue skies and wind and birds had not been only a dream.” I think that’s a really profound way to talk about dark times in our lives. What are the things that can lead to dark times in people’s lives?
Congregational responses: grief, sickness, failure, oppression, fear and more.
All of those are things that can mean we travel in darkness. When I was thinking about people who experienced great darkness in the Bible, I was drawn to the powerful story of Daniel. Daniel’s life and faith offer us some great wisdom for those of us who are traveling in darkness now, or who may yet travel in darkness.
First, God is the One we go to when we are in a jam. When I’m out and about, meeting people in public places, I don’t usually advertise that I’m a pastor. It’s not that I’m embarrassed—I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world that I get to do what I love. It’s more like I find other people are embarrassed. When people know that I’m a pastor, they apologize for everything. They swear—oops! sorry pastor—as if I’ve never heard it. They say something unkind—oops! sorry pastor—when really they should apologize to God for that, not to me. The other day, someone said, “Oh God!” “Oops! Sorry pastor.” “What for?” I asked. “For taking the Lord’s Name in vain.” I said, “But you were praying! God’s Name is supposed to be used when we are praying.” Isn’t it true? Some of the first words out of our lips when something bad happens are “Oh God!” That’s Daniel’s thing. He knows the document that forbids him to pray to God is signed, and he goes to pray again. It’s good to call on God when we are in a jam.
Second, when the darkness falls, God is with us. In our passage today, when does the darkness begin to fall on Daniel? Is he doing anything wrong? Actually, Daniel’s doing really well, so well that other people are upset with him. The darkness begins in the other administrators as they feel inadequate next to Daniel. Instead of trying to get better themselves, they decide to do Daniel in. Sometimes darkness comes because we have done something wrong—natural consequence then right? But sometimes darkness comes and it’s not because of us. Think about that list of things we made earlier. As the darkness closes in, do we go to God? That’s what Daniel does. Look at Daniel’s prayer for a moment. Daniel gets down on his knees to pray—to praise God, and to seek God’s mercy. Praise God? In the darkness? Why would we praise God in the darkness? Because God is still God in the darkness. Because God still loves us in the darkness. Because God is still in control even in the darkness. Seek God’s mercy? Because God can change things. Because God can help us manage our fears and anxieties, and stay humble. Because even in the darkness, we know things can get worse. Did you notice that it got worse for Daniel? First, there are people out to get him…then they get him…then he’s thrown into the lion’s den. Dark. Darker. Darkest. Still Daniel praises God and seeks God’s mercy. Daniel knows when the darkness falls, God is with us.
Third, to go through the darkness with God brings us freedom. I love forensic shows. One of my favorites was called Cold Case, and I loved it because it did a really neat job of solving the mysteries, but also showing people’s humanity. In one episode, a girl is heart-broken because a boy dumped her for another girl, so she conspires to kill the girl. Decades later, Detective Lilly solves the mystery and sits across from the girl who killed the other girl. “Why did you did it?” the detective asks. The girl who is now grown says, “No one ever told me it would get better.” Trying to put out the darkness only makes the darkness deeper. Instead, Daniel shows us that God is with us and can help us endure the darkness, that God will even join us in the depths of consuming darkness…and we will not be eaten. God completely foils the forces of darkness for Daniel…they never expected that Daniel would survive. The law only talked about what to do if they caught him praying—he’d get thrown into the lions’ den—not what would happen when he came out the other side! In the same way, for those who go through the valley of the shadow, we gain freedom. We know God will be with us whatever comes, and we can face our future fearlessly.
Lots of people think that Christians should walk in a land of sunlight, beauty and joy, and there can be times when God’s Presence can bring joy so powerful that we are not sure we will laugh or cry or both. But Christians can also walk in some really dark places—and when we travel in darkness, still God is there with us. How can that be? To walk with Jesus is to learn how to surrender our lives to Him, to learn how to trust God and lean on God’s strength and direction—whatever else is happening in our lives. That’s what’s amazing about Daniel—how calm he seems to be. He knows God is with him. And just as Daniel leaves the lions’ den, just as Jesus walked out of a tomb after rising again, when we travel in darkness, we know one day, we will step out of the darkness. We know, because we travel with the One who, even in the darkest places, is the light of the world.