Armodoxy for Today: Revelation (Eve of Theophany)
It is the eve of Theophany. And you might expect a message about a babe in a mangers or a star in the sky, but instead we take a detour and present a story from the Old Testament with a surprising twist at the end that connects to the Revelation of God that is celebrated on Theophany.
There is a tradition in the Armenian Church to chant “The Song of the Three” from the Book of Daniel (chapter 3) at the Eve of Theophany. Four chanters come before the altar, one narrates the Scripture while the other three sing a song of rebellion against the powers of the world and pledge their loyalty to God.
Many stories from the Old Testament feature royalty, and this one doesn’t disappoint. This about a king who is as unique as his name, Nebuchadnezzar. As the story is read, he has constructed a huge gold statue celebrating himself and his magnificent prowess. He has sent out an order for everyone in his kingdom to come forward, pay homage and worship before the statue. Should anyone refuse to do so, the penalty was death by means of a fiery furnace. Three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, refuse the order of the King. The orders for punishment are carried out and Shadrah, Meshach and Abed-Nego are thrown into the fiery furnace. They go in singing the praises of God and survive the heat and flames.
Their song, “The Song of the Three,”* says, “O Nebuchadnezzar, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Nebuchadnezzar is furious at their contempt and their rebellious attitude. He has the heat turned up seven fold. The three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, continue to sing the praise of God.
The narrator continues, “Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
God is revealed! On the Eve of Theophany, the Eve of the Celebration of Jesus Christ being born and revealed, this Scriptural passage is read in all the Armenian Churches as a reminder that during our worst moments, when the heat is on and even exceeding normal expectations of survival, God is revealed and in our midst. He never abandons us. The story of the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego is retold as a prelude to the greatest story ever told, a prelude to the Birth of the Savior, who stands with us during our most difficult moments and a loving and caring God who never abandons us.
Tonight we greet one another with the great news: Christ is born and revealed, blessed be the revelation of Christ!
Let us pray, “O Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On this evening you entered the world. The Word was made Incarnate. You stand with us during our trials and tribulations. You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Keep the freshness of this story ever present in my life. Tonight we finish our Advent Journey and I proclaim the great news that you are born and revealed. May those who hear turn to the Truth and may I never turn away from this connection to Life. In all things I praise you along with the Father and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
*Note: The story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three men can be found in Daniel 3 and I strongly urge that you read it in its entirety. The Song of the Three is part of the Armenian canon, that is, it is in the Traditional Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bible. Unfortunately, the Protestants (including the Armenian evangelical churches), have removed the Song of the Three from the Holy Scriptures along with several other books, and placed them in a group of books labeled as “Apocrypha (that is, “Hidden”). For the Armenian Church, Holy Scripture cannot be discarded.