Still the Ancient of Days
November 25, 2018 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Daniel 7:9–7:14, Revelation 1:4–1:8
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
“Still the 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 northern Virginia’s light-polluted night sky, but a sky full of stars: the Milky Way as it can be seen from out on open water or other spaces far removed from city lights. Do you recall what that was like, looking up at the heavens? In those few times that I’ve able to really view the vast expanse of the cosmos, I remember being overwhelmed. It was like the earth was no longer an anchor. I felt as if I was in danger of falling off 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. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen yet another mass shooting in our country with many young victims. Wildfires have ravaged towns out west, claiming nearly 100 lives so far. The caravan of several thousand migrants from Central America is now just outside our borders, causing anxiety and concern in politicians and average citizens alike. Fear is in the air.
But attacks and disasters and politics aren’t the only sources of fear in people’s lives right now. As we head into the holiday season here in our nation, people are feeling the fear that comes from the financial pressures that come along with travel and consumerism and end-of-year expenses. Some folks fear the looming specter of having to spend time with family, the tensions that will erupt when everyone comes together. Others are afraid of what these holidays will be like without a loved one by their side. Even without the threat of violence, these experiences may still bring fear into our lives.
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.
We heard a portion of Daniel’s prophetic vision in today’s first reading, but in the verses leading up to that, you’ll find Daniel saw something truly 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, one of which spoke great and boastful words against God. Why shouldn’t Daniel 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 in Judah, 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 are given an image of God the Father. Snow-white clothing shows 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 acting against evil to deliver the verdict against the forces which have terrorized creation.
In verses 11 and 12, we hear that neither the boastful beast nor its predecessors stand a chance. The fourth and greatest beast is killed, 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 would witness 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. In both Daniel and Revelation, this figure is shown as one who is both human and divine. 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. In Matthew 26:64, Jesus confirms that he is indeed the Son of Man who will 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 powers and authorities of this world. 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, 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.
If you were here three years ago, you might think this sermon sounds familiar. You’d be right. I first delivered this message back in 2015, having made only a few changes for today. When I was looking ahead to this weekend’s texts, I was struck by how the power of fear continues to be felt in our society: while the faces fear takes might change, it continues to afflict our broken world. But even more significantly: the Ancient of Days still sits on the throne. Christ is still the King, and nothing can change that.
Today, just as three years ago, just as two millennia ago, you and I are called to live under the life-giving love of the one who loved us first. Under Christ’s love, you and I can live devoted to those whom he puts in our care. That includes active love to care and provide for those who have been displaced from their homes or who have experienced other great losses. Facing fear head-on in Christ our King, we can confidently stand and share the hope that comes through him as his people.
So 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 fear forever, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of Man, will return, all out of love for you.