Esther For Advent
Advent is about God’s rescue of us as we are enveloped by the empire where God is concealed and our rebellion is revealed.
In the first act of the story of Esther we found Esther and Mordecai, standing in for God’s people completely compromised by empire. They had turned their back on God and his kingdom and tried to succeed in empire’s way. They were initially enormously successful. Esther climbed to the top by opening her life and her legs completely to empire.
In the second act of the story we begin to see the futility of empire in the age of decay. Esther’s beauty will fade. The king’s shallow interest in Esther will decline. New competitors, Haman in this case arose and exposed the fact of empire, that within it and its way (my well-being at the expense of others) there is no enduring safety or shalom.
In this moment Esther and Mordecai, ancestors of Saul’s family are forced to re-enact the moment of Saul’s capitulation to empire in 1 Samuel 15. In this crisis Esther now decides to redeem Saul and the people of God compromised by empire at the risk of her own welfare and her own life. This sets into motion the conflict between the people of God and empire.
Advent is Also About the Second Coming
Advent is about the coming of a rescuer. We connect it to the Christmas season in the coming of Jesus in his birth in Judea. Advent is also about the second coming of Jesus, the coming in which he will bring empire’s threat to God’s people to an end.
The images of Jesus’ second coming are very different from the pastoral setting of shepherds and angel choirs. The Jesus we see in Revelation is one who comes in terrible vengeance against his enemies. The enemies of God flee the wrath of the lamb and wish the mountains to hide them from his terrible face.
These images trouble modern westerners who enjoy thinking of themselves as peaceful and non-violent. We take offense at any image of an angry God who sets the world right in holy wrath.
We also, however, believe in justice, and as we read the story of Haman, Mordecai, Esther and Xerxes we take less offense at Xerxes treatment of Haman and very much see Haman as getting exactly what he deserves.
Our Complicity in Violence and Self-Righteous Objection
When I see the contrast of the offense of God’s wrath against the embrace of retributive justice it leads me to believe that our offense at God’s claims to bring justice to the world is based mostly upon our own self-righteousness and our inability to own up to the violence against the weak and the poor of the systems that we implicitly support. We support systems that keep us secure and prosperous but keep the destruction entailed by it hidden from our gaze. This is a secret we keep from ourselves because it condemns us and disrupts the self-righteous narratives we tell ourselves. If we listen to the voices of the weak and the poor around the world, however, we might begin to see how our empire crushes promotes our well-being at the expense of others and indicts us before a righteous judge who has pledged to bring justice to the world.
God raises up the humble and brings down the lowly
The song of Mary in Luke tells of how the Lord lifts up the lowly and brings down the proud. It’s hard not to think about this song when we read about Haman. He attempts to legitimize the killing of a nation because Mordecai violated his ego by not bowing down before him.
As is true in many Bible stories different people play different roles and stand in for different people at different times. In this case Xerxes, King Headache will raise up and bring down. He mysteriously has trouble sleeping one night and since he’s his favorite character in any story he wants his own story read back to him. Suddenly the oversight of reward for Mordecai is found and he wishes to give him thanks.
When Xerxes asks Haman how someone should best be praised and rewarded Haman naturally imagines Xerxes is talking about him and concocts the best idea he can imagine. Haman then learns that he must now do this to his sworn enemy, doubling Haman’s resolve to not only kill Mordecai and his people but to savor it.
We are the Villains Too
Part of the way empire has implicitly seeped into our filters is the way we like to identify only with the heroes of God in the Bible and don’t see ourselves in the villains. Not only are Esther’s and Mordecai’s stories our stories, but Haman’s story is our story as well.
The story of Haman’s downfall should be instructive to us because it is the story of how God’s justice against empire aligns with empire itself.
What drive’s Haman? The dark matter of the soul. In what way was Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him a threat?
It was a threat only if you understand the dark matter of empire and how it works. Empire exists by power and ego and Mordecai’s refusal to surrender his self to Haman’s demands for glory threaten the core of empire, just like Jesus’ refusal to surrender his self to the religious authorities and to Pilate’s rule threatened the empire Jesus had to contend with.
Haman’s wrath in fact so drives Haman that even when he secures what it is he’s been seeking (continued pursuit of the innermost rings) he cannot enjoy it. Nothing will satisfy Haman until he is king himself, and then god himself. Even at that point if he would to supplant God himself he could find no rest because he would need instantly to put down any threat to his glory and his claim of being all in all for all of existence.
This of course illustrates the core humility of Yhwh himself and his patience. He tolerates evil far longer than we imagine he should. He is slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness, waiting, wanting us to leave our insanity.
Good News in Judgment Day
At the same time God cannot wait forever. He will not allow the spirit of Haman to endure forever and he will be moved to protect the weak and his beloved from the threat of Agagites throughout history.
What we learn is that Haman’s trap is his own. He erects a pole to impale Mordecai because Mordecai must not only be eliminated, but must be made an example of before the people.
In Mordecai’s pole we see a pre-echo of the cross of Christ. Christ would not bow to empire and Rome felt the need to make an example of him by hoisting him naked before the world with a mocking sign.
It is in fact Haman’s pursuit of the inner ring that Esther employs to trap him. He is exposed for who he is and even in the moment when the trap is sprung he doesn’t see himself clearly enough to read the room and understand how he looks now before the king threatening his own beloved.
Are we victims of our own egos? What does it take to offend us? Is someone’s refusal to worship us or give us the glory we hunger for and imagine we deserve sufficient to elicit hatred and retribution against them? If so, do we even see our own misery or captivity to ourselves as false god?
There came one who was God but did not consider equality with God something to be exploited (Philippians 2). He who alone was worthy of worship prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies who not only didn’t worship him but mocked him as they killed him.
He became the leader of anti-empire. He revealed the humble God who does not glory in our humiliation but instead glories in our exaltation. He reveals the father above while our egos reveal the master below.
This reminds me of CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Here a senior demon schools his nephew on this reality.
To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself –creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself; the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him, but still distinct.
Screwtape letters, pg. 46
As we are freed from the service of our own bloated ego, one might wonder how to use our time and energy? The answer would be to do as the our heavenly father does. Go give rather than to take. To ask, rather than demand, to serve rather than to be served.