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A Slightly Different Christmas Story
... or why Daniel was not bitten by the lions ...

Some relations of mine live on the outskirts of a small town in southern Germany.
Just a few hundred metres away there is a farm with horses, dogs, cats and other animals.

When I last visited them I took a walk to the farmyard. A large dog came towards me.
We greeted one and other and he allowed me to ruffle his fur.
Whilst I was paying attention to him one of his comrades joined us. This new dog was just as big as the first. New greetings had to be exchanged. There are three of us now.
Sitting between these two great animals, I talk to them, stroke and ruffle them.
We learn to trust one and other.

In my mind I can hear my wife saying, "One of these days you are going to get bitten..." and my answer, "Why should...".

At this point I recall the story of Daniel sitting in the den of lions. None of the animals harm him there.

A Slightly Different Christmas Story.
Daniel in der Löwengrube.
Bild: FRANKE, Lena: In: "Daniel und seine Freunde", Seite 31, Missionswerk Werner Heukelbach, Bergneustadt, 1999

Of course this is a questionable connection. A few tame dogs are nothing in comparison to wild, hungry lions.
And yet a certain question remained to occupy me,
"Why was Daniel not bitten by the lions?"

To begin with, here is the story of Daniel:

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!" A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of the nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?" Daniel answered, "O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king." The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. At the king's command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: "May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures for ever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the Lions.
Daniel 6, 17 -27

Back to my question:
"Why was Daniel not bitten by the lions?"

Some will say, the text says that "God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions." Others will say it is because "Daniel trusted in his God."
But is it that simple?
I would like to take my question back to the story of creation:

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the fields and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
Genesis 2, 19-20a

God brings his creatures to the man. None of the animals run away from him. They neither eat each other nor do they bite the man.
And the man is allowed to name each creature: "You are to be called lion, and you elephant, and you horse etc.."
In the Bible, to give someone or something a name is something not to be taken for granted. There is much more connected to giving a name (or a new name: Abraham, Israel, Paul...). In a sense it means a claim to possession or the acceptance of responsibilty, love, trust, caring and many other things which could be named here.
Perhaps this will be easier to understand when we remember what it is like when God calls us by our own name by saying, "I have called you by your own name, you are mine".
God assigned the task of naming HIS creation to the man.

Here is another text from the Old Testament:

The Lord then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made." And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
Genesis 7,1-9

I recall the pictures I saw at Sunday School: The wooden Ark and the animals going into it: elephants, giraffes, cattle, dogs, cats and all other creatures.
And again the same question arises: Why didn't any of the animals bite Noah? Why did they go into the ark with him and not run away from him? Why didn't they eat each other up whilst they lived together in the ark? And why were they satisfied to eat what Noah had stored up for them in the ark?

"My question was:
"Why was Daniel not bitten by the lions?"
I can imagine that you know the answer by now. These three biblical stories witness that:

God himself was nearby in each case!

The curse of sin and debt was not present at the time when Adam was allowed to name each creature. And in the cases of Noah and Daniel neither sin nor debt were apparant or evident.

In a Christmas Carol written by Isaac Watts to a tune from George Frederik Handel there are the words:

All sins and debts were paid by Him
and peace shall rule the land
For God's salvation frees us all
And His rich blessing fills the world
Removes the curse of sin.

In this verse I find myself in the centre of the Bible text where God is again very close to people - to us - to me: At the birth of His son:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An Angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all The people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
»Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.«

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2,1-20

Again God is close to people.
It is - just as the artist has shown in the picture Daniel - once more the clarity and the light of God that is shining around the shepherds. And again the angel of the Lord is present. But there is also the dirty stable with horse dung and cow manure, the drooled over manger in which the Saviour of the world is lying.
Yet despite all that the Evangelist John can still say:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1,14

There angels sing for joy and speak to people about this wonderful thing that has happened.
There shepherds and wise men kneel before the manger in the stall.
And yet funnily enough the Evangelist, Luke, does not mention creation. Is creation to be an exception?

Is this why people began to think up stories and fables?
Why there are countless Christmas tales in which animals can talk to people or themselves? Animals who are good and kind.
Are these wishful dreams?
The Bible itself does not require fairytales and fables ...

Another German writer of hymns points to the bible as he says:

A shoot growing
from a tender root,
just as our ancestor sang;
a descendent from Jesse.
And it has blossomed
in the midst of a cold winter
half of the night long.

I find this text in the book of the prophet Isiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breathe of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledghe of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Isiah 11, 1-9

This piece of the scriptures describes a time in which God, people and the whole of creation shall once more be very close to each other: The time of Jesus Christ's second coming.

Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans about his longing for God. He includes all creatures and creation in this longing. Creation must suffer under the curse caused by the sin of mankind. Yet it longs to be set free.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemtion of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8, 18-25

People and creatures long for this freedom, long for the curse of sin to be taken away. Long for things to be as they were. And long for God himself to be present.
And I recall what it will be like to be set free again. To be close to God once more. Not to have to hide from him anymore. To meet those chosen ones - the "cloud of witnesses" - again. Those whose names are written down in the book of life.
And perhaps then - whilst I am praising and thanking God - I will be stroking the beard of a lion, or my daughter will be playing with a pack of wolves.


Picture: Own Image, own Scan,
"PEACE - (Isiah XI.6.)" William Strutt, Gravure Hanfstaengl, Copyright 1896 by Franz Hanfstaengl., Printed in Munich., Franz Hanfstaengl, Munich, London, New York


Picture: Own Image, own Scan,

In Revelation, the last book of the bible, God shows us through John the new Jerusalem and the new earth.
This picture has nothing to do with any actual conception of our day and age. These are usually conjured up with human ideals in mind not with godly ones.
For it is God himself who will bring peace to creation and who will once again be close to all things.
And in a few sentences, with reference to parts of Isiah, John describes what this will be like.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Revelation 21, 1-7

Now the dwelling of God is with mankind!

At the beginning I asked, Why was Daniel not bitten by the lions?

The answer is, because God was very close to Daniel.
Just as he was with Adam when the world was created and with Noah when he was building the ark - and 2000 years ago God also came very, very close to mankind in the birth of his son.

During HIS death on the cross, this son, JESUS, suffered - for you and for me - the complete opposite of God's nearness - the total absence of God. :

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ...

Yet through HIS victory over sin and death and because of HIS dying and rising up from the dead, I myself - am made free from the curse of sin - and enjoy the closeness of God once more.
Yes, I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas, especially to celebrating the birth of God's son.

And I am looking forward to the second coming of Jesus, when I will not only hope to be near God, but will indeed be truly close to him.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2 and verse 9, Paul takes up some words of the prophet Isiah (64,3):

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.

Yes I am looking forward to "Christmas"!

Nuremberg, Christmas 1999



last update: e_krweihn.htm / 10.10.2011
created by: © - GRÜNER -
translated by: - Ruth Baer -