King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live for ever! You, O 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, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
Let's start with their names - my favorite thing to do with the Hebrew scriptures is find out how the common translation of names fit into the story. And this one doesn't disappoint. For starters our three Hebrew children, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego are their "Chaldean names." In other words, they had Hebrew names but as a result of the exile were given new names.
Their original Hebrew names were: Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah which mean Jah who is gracious, Who is like God and God has helped.
Their Chaldean names are Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego which mean Command of the moon god, who is the moon god and servant of Nebo (or Nergal).
In essence, their Hebrew names had to do with God, the God of Israel, the God who helps them, the God who is gracious. Their namesakes were attached to the God of their ancestors. But when captured and made to live in a foreign land, they were stripped of their namesake. They were made to answer to different names, names that reference foreign gods, the gods of the Chaldeans. I wonder if they ever got used to the new names? I wonder if they sometimes forgot to answer to them. I wonder if their new names reminded them of the distance of their ancestral home.
I wonder if Shadrack, I mean Hananiah - God who is gracious grew weary of answering to Shadrack "command of the moon god." Did "Who is like God" tire of answering to "who is like the moon god?" And I can only imagine a boy who was named "God has helped" would grow uncomfortable with answering to "Servant of Nebo."
Daily reminders of slavery, of captivity, of lack of control or autonomy. How degrading!
And yet they did not forget who they were. Despite being given a new identity, they stayed faithful to their true namesake. They would not bow down to the gods of this foreign land.
As we enter the season of Advent, a season of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ into our lives, our world, our politics, our suffering, can we name some of the gods to which we answer? In other words, how secure is our namesake? Have we traded children of God for children with toys? Instead of looking for God to save, are we looking for an app that doesn't shut down? When we look to the clouds, are we mostly downloading documents these days?
OK, maybe those are too simplistic.
Here's what I know for sure, this Thursday I'll wake to the Macy's day parade. And while the turkey is roasting, I'll watch with anticipation the coming of Santa. He arrives each Thanksgiving right on time, at noon. This is the kind of precision I like, I enjoy. Waiting for Christ is not like that. Advent is not like that.
The Advent of God is never precise, it is often unexpected and maybe even a little fuzzy or hard to define or describe. The Advent of God... well, it happened in our story. In a fiery furnace, the King squints his eyes and says, "there is a fourth man and he looks like the son of God."
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