Ancient of Days
November 22, 2015 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Daniel 7:9–7:14, Revelation 1:4b–1:8
Christ the King (Last Sunday of the Church Year)
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8
“Ancient of Days”
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. Amen.
If you can, think back to remember a time when you were able to go out into the night and could look up and see the stars. Not just the few stars and constellations that we might be able to see around here in the light-polluted night sky of our area, but a sky full of stars, the Milky Way as I can be seen from out on open water or anywhere else far away from the lights of large cities. Do you recall what that was like for you, looking up at the heavens? In those few times that I’ve able to view that vast expanse of the cosmos, I remember being overwhelmed. It was like the earth was no longer my anchor. I felt as if I was in danger of falling out into space. It was literally awesome: it gave me a sense of wonder, along with fear.
There’s certainly a lot of fear in the world right now. Terrorists attacked Paris a little over one week ago. In only the past few days, gunman haven taken hostages and lives at a hotel in Mali. Belgium is on its highest security alert as they face the credible threat of potential attacks. In our country, many elected leaders have taken steps to curtail the access of refugees, thinking that some of those immigrants might be seeking to enter into the United States to do harm. Fear is in the air.
But attacks and threats of attacks aren’t the only source of fear in people’s lives right now. As we head into the holiday season here in our country, people are feeling the fear that comes from the financial pressures that come along with travel and commercialism and end-of-year expenses. Some people fear the looming specter of having to spend time with family and the tensions that will erupt when everyone comes together, while others are afraid of what these holidays will be like without a loved one by their side. Even though these experiences might not carry the danger of gunmen seeking to do evil, they can still cause fear.
Fear can change how you live. It limits you. The time and energy you might spend on the things you want to do can get siphoned off into worry. You might avoid taking action out of the fear of what might be, even abandoning what you know to be right in an effort to keep yourself – or others – safe.
Daniel’s vision included more than what we heard in today’s reading. In the verses leading up to it, you’ll find that Daniel saw something really fearful. Four somethings, in fact. Four great beasts rose up out of the chaos of the sea, each one more frightening than the last. The fourth beast was terrifying and powerful, with ten horns, including one which spoke great and boastful words against God. It makes sense that Daniel should be struck with fear. He and his people were living in exile under the rule of foreign powers who did not worship Yahweh. When confronted with the reality of their situation in this land far away from their former home, why should any of them have hope?
Hear again the next part of Daniel’s vision: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” The Ancient of Days has come to judge and render justice. He is the one who is, who was, and who is coming: Yahweh. Here we get an image of God the Father. Snow-white clothing show his purity and holiness, while white hair represents wisdom that comes from age – and even more, wisdom that comes from eternity. His throne of flames and fire, like a chariot, shows his almighty power. The Ancient of Days has come, an awesome sight to be sure, but one which God’s people can welcome. God Himself is taking action against evil to deliver the verdict against the forces which have terrorized creation.
In verses 11 and 12, you’ll find that neither the boastful beast and its predecessors stand a chance. The fourth and greatest beast is killed with its body given over to destruction in fire. The other terrifying beasts are also overturned and made powerless. The Ancient of Days has judged, and the power of his word is immediate and complete.
Yet Daniel’s vision doesn’t end there. As in the revelation that John witnessed hundreds of years later, Daniel saw the Son of Man coming onto the scene – not from the sea, but with the clouds of the heavens. Especially in Daniel and Revelation, this figure is shown as one who is both human and divine. Connecting those two visions, we know the name of the coming king who is greater than all the kings of the earth: Jesus. “Son of Man” is a title that’s used in numerous places in the Scriptures, including by Jesus himself. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus points his disciples to that great Last Day when the Ancient of Days will come to judge and the Son of Man will appear. Later, in 26:64, Jesus confirms that he is indeed the Son of Man who was promised to come in divine power and glory as Daniel saw. Jesus keeps his promises.
Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, a vision reinforced by the revelation given to John, comes from God as a reminder that all is not lost. God is ruler over and above the world’s authorities. Despite their great boasting, the Ancient of Days sits on the throne and will, when all is said and done, see his purposes through. Fear and terror will be overthrown. Evil will be judged and destroyed forever. The Son of Man will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, crowned with glory and power.
No one will be exempt from standing before the Lord on that great Day. But here’s the thing: as you come and stand before him, it’s not a time to be afraid. When the Judge of all looks at you, you who are robed in Christ’s righteousness will hear the verdict “Not guilty!” The Son of Man gave himself to win you back from sin and all the powers of evil. You have and will have life in Jesus.
As Christ’s people, as Christians, we need not focus on fears. Instead, we can look to the cross and throne of our King, confident that he is coming. He will forever silence the forces that seek to bring terror in this present age, along with all those powers that make great boasts against the Ancient of Days. Our hope is based in him, not in the passing promises of safety and security that the world may offer us.
Here and now, you and I are called to live under the life-giving love of the one who loved us first. Under Christ’s love, then, you and I can live devoted to those whom Jesus leaves in our care. In the present day, that includes active love to care and provide for refugees in need, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who are fleeing from persecution happening in their homeland. Facing fear head-on in Christ our King, we can confidently stand and share the hope that comes through him as his people.
The next time that you look out at the night sky and see the expanse of the heavens, I hope that you experience a bit of awesome wonder – not in fear that you’ll fall off the face of the earth, but remembering that Christ, the King, has authority over it all. Just as the Ancient of Days is enthroned over all time and will put away terror forever, the Son of Man has come and is to come, all out of love for you.