Discerning the Signs Around Us

Lesson 46 –

Daniel 12:1-3 NRSV

1″At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Background
Daniel is a prophetic text with vivid imagery. It’s also a book that shows us the dangers of great empires with greedy kings. This is the same book where we meet Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, three Hebrew children who are forced to either bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar or be sent to the fiery furnace.

The lectionary’s gospel text also plays with the theme of watching for signs. In your own devotional period for this week, read Mark 13:1-8. How does this passage resonate for you?

Today’s lesson will focus on discerning the signs around us.

Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening during this passage?

Daniel receives a word about what will happen. And in that time, the great protector of Daniel’s people will arise. However, there will be a great period of suffering that is unprecedented. As a consolation, Daniel is reminded that his people will be delivered. Even those who are in the “Dust of the earth” shall awake. They will either be sent to “everlasting life” or “everlasting contempt.” In those days, the wise ones will shine like “the brightness of the sky.”

When is all of this going to take place?

The text just uses a vague phrase, “in at that time.” We do not know what day, month, or year it will take place. This theme shows up throughout the Bible and throughout other religious traditions, too. Humans across cultures want to know, “when will this era end? How long will we be in this kind of life?”
You might sympathize with this obsession. How many of us have asked doctors, friends, or God “when is this COVID thing going to be over?” It is natural to want to avoid suffering and disorientation. It is human to long for a day “at that time” when a protector will arise. When will we be delivered?

Moses’ people wondered this. Joseph wondered this while in prison. The Hebrew children in the fiery furnace wondered. And people wonder this across history. When the world around us feels out of control, it is natural to hold onto the things we can control. But it can be unhealthy, and even obsessive, to try to control uncontrollable things.

Who is the prince?
It can be easy to think that the prince is some elected ruler. But it’s not that simple. The “protector of your people” is bigger than congresspeople or presidents or even the United Nations. Associate Professor Anthea Portier-Young of Duke University Divinity School writes,

The Prince of your people is fighting for [us], standing over [us] and working for [our] salvation in ways that [we] cannot see. Consider what it means for [us] to be the people of the holy ones of the Most High, to share citizenship in the kingdom of God with the holy angels. Our shared hope in life eternal, with God and angels, is not simply a dream for the future. Daniel offers us this hope to sustain, guide, strengthen, and embolden us.

The “prince” described in this passage is not necessarily a human one. There is no one person who can accomplish Daniel’s prophecies. Instead, the word “prince” is a metaphor to describe an otherworldly concept. After all, this passage also describes the resurrection of people who have long been dead. We must think bigger than just human beings at this specific moment in time.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World

In the 1939 film Wizard of Oz, Dorothy runs into a fortune teller named Professor Marvel who promises to tell the future. Except, we, the audience, can catch his tricks. He’s great at the power of suggestion. He can guess things and convince people that he is able to see the future.
As he works with Dorothy, he has her close her eyes so that he can properly assess the energy. While her eyes are closed, he fumbles around in her bag to find a picture of Dorothy and Aunt Em. Bingo! He’s found his entry point.
He waves his hands over the crystal ball and contrives a story about a sad woman whose heart has been broken. Dorothy fills in the blanks and realizes “that’s my Aunt Em! I must run home to her immediately!”
Sometimes, we are convinced that people are telling us something prophetic, but they’re just able to read the contents of our baskets. Daniel is prophetic because he reads the signs around him. We are all carrying clues.

Journal: The next time you leave your house, take notice of just one new thing around you. What do you notice this time that was different (not necessarily good or bad) even a year ago? What does that tell you?

Closing: Listen to “God Is Tryin’ To Tell You Somethin’, from The Color Purple Soundtrack

Can’t sleep at night and you wonder why
Maybe God is trying to tell you something
Crying all night long, something’s gone wrong
Maybe God is trying to tell you something

Oh, you can’t sleep at night, and you sure wonder why
Maybe God is trying to tell you something


Prayer:

Dear God,
You are an artist. You find ways to talk to us through nature. Through wind, through the stars, through ocean waves.
We are often distracted. It is hard to still ourselves long enough to see the signs you are showing us when we are overwhelmed with the struggles of daily life.

Today, we ask for the peace that allows us to focus on your words and wisdom. We know that you are trying to get a powerful word of love to us. Help us to hear you and to seek you.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

WORKS CITED
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-2/commentary-on-daniel-121-3-3

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