We are now fully in Advent. It is the season of waiting, waiting with Faith in God’s Promises. Last week we were in the Book of Habakkuk, who was waiting for God to bring about peace and justice in a world where these are scarce. This week, we move back to a narrative passage, the story of the courage of Esther. In part, this book is a story of waiting, waiting in hope and in dread.
The Story So Far
The Book of Esther is an entertaining, dramatic story of a Jewish hero, who saves her people from destruction. But, before she can do this, the stage must be set. Esther must have the power to save, which in this case means she must become queen. The former queen must be deposed (chapter 1) and Esther must be chosen as her successor (chapter 2). Note that Esther did nothing to cause this to happen, but she was chosen (presumably by the God who is hidden in the pages of this story). Mordecai, Esther’s cousin/guardian, functions both as Esther’s conscience and as the representative for the Jewish people in this kingdom.
Mordecai demonstrates his allegiance to his king in the second chapter by reporting an assassination plot, and he demonstrates his allegiance to God by not bowing before Haman. Haman then has his deadly temper-tantrum, taking a slight to his pride as an excuse to order a kingdom-wide genocide. The scene is now set for our hero to show her courage.
Here we have a contrast. On the one side, Haman has signed a death warrant against the entire population of the Jews. All the Jews are in danger. Well, all but one. Despite what Mordecai says in 4:13, I do think that Esther would be safe if she did nothing. No one at the court knows she is Jewish, and I do think that the king would object if Haman were to come and drag the king’s beloved wife off for execution.
On the other side, Mordecai is challenging the otherwise safe Esther to have courage and become a hero, to risk her own life to save others. He argues that she was elevated to a position of power so that she could become a courageous leader. Courage, heroism, and leadership all become clear and visible “in such a time like this” (v. 14).
Advent: Courage in Waiting
As is often the case in the Narrative Lectionary, Esther is an unusual reading for the season of Advent. Advent is when we focus on God’s promise of the Messiah, both to the people of Israel (which was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus) and to us (which will be fulfilled when Jesus returns to usher in the full kingdom of God on earth). The Book of Esther doesn’t even mention God, much less the promise of the Messiah. So, how do you make a connection?
You can make the connection in waiting. In Esther, the Jews waited for salvation from Haman by sending Mordecai. Mordecai waited for Esther to act by contacting and convincing her. Esther waited for the right time by fasting. As we wait for the celebration of the Incarnation of God and for Christ to come again, we should also wait by acting with courage, in whatever situation we are in.
Gathering Your Courage
What situation do you find yourself in? What is your “such a time as this”? Challenge your faith formation participants (and yourself) to identify a situation they are in that requires change. Then, challenge them to look to Esther as a model of courage and act either in their waiting or in addressing the situation.
This applies directly to our free activity this week. In “Praying for Courage,” participants reflect on the courage of Queen Esther and others and pray for courage in their own scary situations. This activity was written for our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum, but it can be quickly and easily adapted for other age groups, including cross+generational worship and classroom settings. As a bonus, this week’s download includes a simple song that teaches the story of this passage.
A Note on God:
One of the historically controversial aspects of the Book of Esther is the fact that God is not explicitly mentioned anywhere. We are not told authoritatively where God was at work in the story. This is one of the many things I like about this story. In that aspect, it’s like my life. In my life, there are no voices from heaven, terrifying visions of angels, nor reliable prophets proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord.” If I want to see God’s actions in either Esther’s or my story, I need to determine for myself where God’s hand is at work. And, I must believe that this is true. I must trust in an invisible God and God’s invisible promises.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Advent has arrived! If you had ordered Fall resources or are interested in just getting started, order your Winter resources now, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately and start using them!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!