Scripture: Esther 4:1-17
We’ve jumped right into the middle of the action in the book of Esther, so we should take a moment to sort out just what is going on. If you remember last week, I talked about the imminent danger the Jews were facing by surrounding enemies and nations. Well, it happened. The Jews have been taken into exile, and have been there for some time. Esther, the namesake of our book, has been chosen to be part of the king’s harem and has worked her way up to being queen. Yet, no one in the royal family seems to know she is Jewish.
The king is also a man of a simple mind, and has been persuaded to make an decree that all Jews should be killed. Just like at earlier times in the Old Testament, they are growing in population quickly. The dilemma facing Esther is for her to decide if she is going to make her heritage known and make a political statement as queen. She is being urged strongly by her cousin Mordecai to use her influence and her Jewish background to make a stand to save her people. This is where were are today when we catch up to Esther.
Now Esther has not had an easy life. She wound up an orphan, she’s on her own, lost and alone. Things are dangerous for her as a young woman in a foreign land. She connects with her cousin, Mordecai, who takes her into his home and basically adopts her. She finally has some stability, but even that does not last long as she’s taken into the king’s harem shortly after. There’s no question why she chooses to hide her background. She’s been protecting herself all her life, and this is another way of protection.
What is so important about Esther that we choose to read about her in the middle of Advent? The book of Esther makes no mention of God or prayer. It was added very late into the Bible after much debate. It just feels odd, doesn’t it feel odd?
Well, it kind of is. Yet, this woman becomes an unlikely hero. Given her background as an orphan, given she is a Jewish woman in a foreign land, there really is no reason to expect anything from her.
Somehow she manages to win favour with the king and becomes queen. But, don’t think of her as on par with Queen Elizabeth, think of her as more of a trophy queen, or a toy for the king. She could easily be dismissed, or even killed, if the king no longer has any use for her. Yet another reason why she would hesitate when her cousin Mordecai pleads for her to do something to save the Jews from their death sentence.
Mordecai says this, which may be one of the closest hints of an acknowledgement of God’s hand at work in the entire book, “… who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Don’t we love stories of unexpected heroes? Don’t we just love it when the underdog wins in spite huge odds against them?
This is Esther. Esther is the underdog on the verge of snatching victory from certain defeat. And the question is, will she become the hero? Is she willing to risk her own life in order to save the Jewish people? Will she be willing to take a fall in order for the team to win?
“For such a time as this.”
I hear that phrase mentioned every so often. People used it when our moderator was elected last summer, in fact I was possibly one of those who said it. We use this phrase to acknowledge (or is it to wonder?) if God is using someone to do something at a particular time. Has God raised someone up to do something great, or to lead at a particular time, and is that time now?
Mordecai is suggesting that Esther may have found herself as queen at just a time when the people need someone in her position to speak for them when they don’t have a voice of their own. Remember, the Jews are living in exile, they aren’t overly welcome in their new land. All of this, as you might expect, causes Esther to question what her role is to be at this point in her difficult life.
She’s not the first to ponder her own purpose in life. We can find it in other parts of the Bible. I think of the story of Joseph who was left for dead by his brothers, only to be sold into slavery in Egypt where he ended up in prison for a crime he never committed. Yet God used him to save his family from starvation during 7 years of famine in the land. Surely he never really saw his life turning out quite like this.
And what about Moses? Born in Egypt just as the Pharaoh ordered the killing of all Jewish babies, yet he was saved by an Egyptian princess. He eventually became the one who led his people to freedom from the oppressive Egyptians. He saw himself as unfit to lead when approached at a time when all looked bleak. Yet God used him and made him an incredible hero of the people.
We could go on and on and talk about Noah, Abraham, many of the prophets of the Old Testament as well, among many others. And since we’re in the middle of Advent, we could talk about John the Baptist. We could even talk about Mary.
Mary and Esther, two young women who were given opportunities to do great things. Esther, a young woman who had nothing, including no future, was asked to use her voice and her position of influence to save a people after somehow becoming a queen in a foreign land! It’s pretty much unimaginable that such events could happen! Clearly God had a plan for her.
Mary, also a young woman who had nothing. She had no power or privilege, just a girl from nowhere of any importance. Yet God chose her to save the people, and this time it would be to save them for the last time as he sends his Son, Jesus, into the world. Mary has a very special opportunity, a completely unexpected opportunity! As she is chosen to be mother to God’s son.
What’s been interesting so far about this Advent’s Sunday readings is that we’ve seen the Jewish people facing great violence. We saw it last week with Habakkuk, and we see it this week in Esther. Last week Habakkuk praised God when he realized God was still present, still speaking, and also that God had a plan, even though when he looked around he saw only violence.
This week, Esther also may realize there is a greater plan for her life than she had realized when she finds herself as an unexpected queen in a time of great violence towards her people.
What we realize is that even in the times of great violence and pain, God’s promise is to bring peace and that people are called to the work of God in bringing that peace to the earth.
Esther may not have praised God for this opportunity, but she did call the people to gather together for prayer and fasting as she approached the king to reveal her true self and claim her heritage as God’s chosen people. And to her surprise, the king relented and the Jewish people were saved.
What did Esther do? What was her response when challenged by Mordecai to use her influence and position? She took the challenge. But more than that, while not praising God, she lived as God would have her live. She lived as one of God’s chosen people, and in living as this example, people responded to God’s call to love one another.
What does Esther teach us today? What can we learn from this woman?
I would say one of the big ones is to ask ourselves “What is my identity?” Am I a father? Am I a brother? Am I a son? Am I a pastor? Am I a friend? Am I a coach? A referee? A teacher? Who am I?
Who are you?
Of all the hats you wear, who are you? What do you identify most with? Parent? Grandparent? Child? Sister? Brother? Teacher? Nurse? Musician? Retiree? I can go on and on, but I don’t think I need to tell you what sort of hats you find yourself wearing.
I will add one more to your collection though. What about “child of God?” That’s another hat you wear. Where does that one fall in your list of priorities?
At this time of year, it’s a great question to ask ourselves as we await the return of the Prince of Peace, the one who was once born in the manger, but promises to return.
The other part of pondering such a question about how we live our lives as children of God is to ask ourselves, “How does this impact my daily living?”
For Esther, it caused her to take a stand with great courage. Remember how she said at the end our reading, “… I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
Even though we live in a really safe society, there are things which are happening in our world which I’m sure God is not terribly pleased about. They even are happening in our own country. With that, we must ask ourselves what kind of personal risk am I willing to take to speak up about these injustices? Am I willing to speak from a position of faith about something I believe is against God’s Word?
I struggled a lot with being on the CBC radio’s morning discussion panel. Many weeks it felt like I was talking to a wall as people used secular ideologies to dismiss my opinion. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, and I surely wasn’t at my best at 7:30 in the morning to respond to their inaccuracies and, what I saw as, flawed points of view. So I resigned. It wasn’t so much a resignation as they stopped inviting me, so when they finally called to see if I was still interested almost a year since I was last on, it was kind of easy to say “no thanks” because it felt like they weren’t entirely excited to have me any more.
Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know, but I am at peace with it. Turns out I have an opportunity now to be on the new Christian radio station starting up, I think I’ll enjoy that one a lot more.
How do we use our position as a child of God to reveal God’s presence, his love, and his peace to those around us? How much risk are we willing to take?
Are we willing to go as far as Esther and say, “If I perish, I perish!”
Jesus went to the cross and died for what he believed in as he stood against the religious establishment as it found itself more and more in line with the secular world around it. And because he did, the world changed as he was resurrected on the third day and then ascended to heaven with the promise to always be with us until he returns.
The world needs a lot more Jesus these days. They need to know God and his love for all people. But more than that, people need to know God’s love in their own lives so he can transform us all to be more like Jesus. To be more like him so less people need to suffer.
Are we willing to let God transform us, and then use us to help transform others? Sometimes with a bit of risk attached to it?
It’s not an easy decision. And it’s one each and every one of us should be struggling with, unless we’ve already made the decision to submit to God’s whole authority in our lives. Very few people go quite that far.
In this season of Advent, on this Sunday of peace, let us be willing to approach God and ask him, “God, what peace can I bring today?” and let him lead us forward boldly, with courage, and with confidence, knowing he is right at our side.
Let us pray,
We humbly thank you for showing us God’s way for our lives. We thank you for the examples of people like Esther who are willing to take great personal risk in order that others may be free. No doubt we can all name someone else from our memory who was also willing to take such a risk to follow these great examples.
Lead us Lord Jesus, help us to see God’s plan for us for such a time as this. A time when our community is facing huge rates of poverty, which affects many families and children, especially at this time of year. A time when drugs, alcohol, and addictions are rampant.
Help us to see where you would have us stand and point the way back to you.
Lord Jesus, we ask this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.