“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13).
The prophet Daniel lived in a time of crisis, on the world historical stage. It was a time of collision between warring empires: Babylonian, Persian, and Greek. It was a time when the People of God looked to be crushed by competing agendas, and their fragile peace disrupted by powers beyond their control. It was a time of urgency, in which Daniel and others looked for God to act, and to establish his kingdom on earth.
Daniel’s vision speaks to this urgent understanding. In the midst of crisis, Daniel sees the action of God in the midst of the troubled world. The point is, it was not obvious in Daniel’s time that God was going to act: that’s why this was a prophetic vision. Daniel is a prophet, not a pundit. Daniel’s prophecy is “apocalyptic,” in the sense that it uncovers or reveals something that normal human vision either can’t or won’t see. Daniel’s vision encompasses the not so obvious truth that God is in control of the universe, and is working through the crisis in order to work his perfect will.
Our first reading today gives us just a snippet of a much larger vision in the seventh chapter of Daniel, which sets out the world historical crisis. There are two movements here. First, in the midst of the crisis, Daniel sees a vision of God, “the Ancient One” who takes his throne. “His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire” (Dan. 7:10). God is there to judge the nations, the empires that have exalted themselves. “A thousand thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgement, and the books were opened” (Dan. 7:10). In other words, God is the ultimate judge, in the cosmic courtroom, who is in charge of the universe.
The second movement gives us a further vision, of a mysterious “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan.7:13). If God is the ultimate judge, the One who holds the entire world in his hands, God also chooses to act through small and humble instruments. In Daniel’s vision, earth’s mighty empires appear as terrifying beasts: deadly, nightmare images of power and rapacity. But the one who appears before the One seated on the throne is a child of earth. Literally, that is, a son of man, made from the same dust as Adam.
Daniel is a prophet, not a pundit; his vision doesn’t traffic in the ordinary, but puts before us the idea that God’s power is manifested in ordinary things that become extraordinary. When it’s time to face off with mighty empires, with the fierce problems that beset us, God doesn’t send an army of angels. No, God raises up a human being, who will be caught up in the clouds to manifest God’s power. “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him… his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
God’s way is not obvious. Prophets like Daniel uncover things that are hidden from mortal eyes, things we would not dream of unless God planted the dream. When prophets speak, people say, “I never thought about it like that.” Things change as a result of the vision, as people see new life and new possibilities arise. The clouds part suddenly, and we see further than we could before. As the poet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet).
Daniel’s prophetic vision is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the humble Son of Man who opens new possibilities and new life for us. He manifests God’s power in ways we could not see before. Instead of sending an army of angels, God sent a child into the world. He gave himself to death on the cross for our redemption. God raised him from the dead in what must have been the least obvious move of all. Life out of death! No one expected that.
We Christians follow a king whose kingdom is not of this world. Our confirmand this morning is reminding us of our vocation as Christians. She is re-affirming her baptismal vows in the presence of the church, and giving us the opportunity to witness, and to do the same. All of us live in a time of crisis, where there are urgent and pressing matters before us. Nothing is more urgent for us than to affirm that God is in charge of the universe, and that he is working through the small things of life in order to bring a new world into being. Ordinary things are becoming extraordinary. He’s using you and me, and all of us together, to work his perfect will.