Votive of the Most Holy Trinity
January 15, 2018
Daniel 3; Song of the Three Young Men
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Song of the Three Young Men isn’t found in the Hebrew Old Testament. It was written in Greek. It is most likely that it was written afterwards. Because of this it does not have the same status or authority as the rest of Daniel. That is not to say that we should receive it with anything less than awe and thankfulness or doubt that God speaks to us through it. It has been handed down to us through the Church. It ought to be received much the way that we receive the Te Deum and the Greater Gloria and the Sanctus. It is more than simply a hymn.
The song is presented as that which the three young men sang in defiance of Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to be worshipped. They would not worship him for the Lord our God is One and He alone is to worshipped and revered. He is to be feared, loved, and trusted above all things – not only above tyrants and men, but also above fire and pain and death.
Nebuchadnezzar asks the three a rhetorical question: “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” He does not think there is a god that can stop him. The fire is hot. His soldiers are strong. He deals in death. He knows what is real.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond by acknowledging some of what Nebuchadnezzar has said. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.” That it is to say: “You can’t be convinced and we don’t care. Nothing happens apart from God’s will whether you know it or not. We are in His hands, not yours.”
They do not know if God will deliver them from pain and death by fire or not. They know only that He is good and His mercy endures forever. They trust Him to do what is best. They say: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
They confess that God the Holy Trinity is all powerful. He does not need to prove Himself to any man, even kings. He keeps His promises. So the three young men will be delivered, one way or another. It looked for a while as though that deliverance would come by death from fire.
That, of course, is not how it went. God intervened in a supernatural way. They went into the fire but were not alone. The Angel of the Lord, Christ, Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity stood with them. The fire had no power over them. Not only was not a single hair of their heads singed, but there was not even the smell of the fire upon them.
What did they do in the fire? They were with Christ. They worshiped Him. What else is there to do? In fact, what else is there ever to do? Is this not what Paul means when he exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always?
Perhaps those men sing the hymn that we sang as the gradual. It is a hymn of defiance. It insists upon the Lord’s blessedness and calls for all of creation to worship Him. It starts with angels and non-corporeal beings. Then it moves to the irrational forces and objects of nature such as wind and heat, seasons and weather. Then it moves to living things, plants and water and animals. Finally, it comes to humans, to all mortals, that is all those who are subject to death, including the people of God, the priests, the servants, the spirits and souls of the righteous, the pure and humble of heart. All of creation is to bless the Lord but mainly this duty and obligation, this joy and comfort, belongs to humanity for God became a Man. So we are called upon to sing God’s praise, not mainly because He delivered the three young men and saved them from the fire, but because He is all powerful and good. He is unchanging in His love. He keeps His promises.
The three young men are a marvelous and gracious example for us in this. If humans hold us in contempt, if kings and governments threaten or even hurt us, it is enough for us that God, who is our supreme being, honors us and calls Himself “our God” and we “His people.” Our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us. Thus St. Paul “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court . . . It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4, ESV)
So also, even death itself, is no threat. Though our bodies are sown in dishonor, they are raised in glory. God the Father will conform us to the glorious body of Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Death might come by fire or cancer or we might just give out. No matter what it should not make us afraid. For if God is for us, who can be against us? Christ was with them in the furnace. He is here with us here, now, not just at the hour of death and not just in Word and Sacrament where He comes to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith. He is with us always, on road, at work, in the bedroom, in front of the television, at the table, in the yard. We are all works of the Lord. Let us bless the Lord. He has made us His. He has bought and won us. He has put His three-fold Holy, inscrutable and glorious Name upon us in Holy Baptism. So also He has preceded us in death. We go down to the grave and He is there. There is no place we go that He is not with us. Let us bless the Lord. He has paved the way through death and into life. He is the first fruits of those who die in Him.
We bless God in all circumstances. We rejoice in the Lord always. He is the blessed one in whom there is no change. He loves us now even as He loved as at creation. We are the works of His hand. The Fall into sin changed us, but did not change Him. He is perfect and complete, needing nothing, but He has created us in order to bestow blessings upon us.
True blessedness is not what the world considers a happy life. It is not prosperity or honor among men. It is not a close relationship with your children or freedom from pain and shame. Rather, true blessedness is in the recognition and full enjoyment of God. It is to confess Him as blessed, to sing His praise, to trust His mercy. The Psalmist thus confesses: “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15, ESV) and again: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1, ESV). And finally, St. John hears the angel say: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”” (Revelation 14:13, ESV)
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.