This is a famous picture of the US Third army after they took Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” alpine retreat. Here are US soldier’s enjoying Hitler’s wine. A scene like this was huge news for Americans. The symbolism of US soldiers enjoying Hitler’s wine brought tremendous joy.
These kinds of scenes are common in history and in our stories. After the US invasion of Iraq there were pictures of US soldiers sitting in Saddam’s chairs, sleeping in his bed, swimming in his pool.
In the Lord of the Rings movies the Hobbits enjoy the Saruman’s food after the Ents overrun Isengard.
After Forrest Gump cashes in his shrimp money he gives Bubba’s mother Bubba’s share and there’s a delightful scene where a white lady serves her lunch.
We love these stories of the poor, the weak and the downtrodden being lifted up and the evil overlords being brought down. This is essentially the last act of the book of Esther.
Haman has been destroyed but the legal threat against the Jews remains. Esther now takes over Haman’s estate and Mordecai takes Haman’s position of power in Xerxes’ administration. Because they can’t just eliminate the existing law the Jews are permitted to organize themselves to retaliate against anyone coming against them in arms and given the right to kill and seize their property. What was a threat of genocide becomes a cause for national liberation as the Jews in the Persian empire triumph over their enemies.
When Justice Comes to Humanity’s Story
In Luke 1 Mary sang her revolutionary song of the lowly being lifted up and the proud being brought low. In Luke 2 the angels appear to shepherds and announce the birth of Jesus. They sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
Since U2 put out their song “Peace on Earth” I can’t hear that passage without hearing Bono’s longing request:
Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Sick of sorrow
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth…
Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
Jesus in the song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth
This peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
We complain about the front end of the book of Esther because Xerxes is so misogynist and Esther plays along. We complain about the end of the book of Esther because the Jews are violent against their enemies and even though they refuse to enrich themselves at their enemy’s expense by taking their property we would rather have had no violence at all in the book.
The irony of course is that we complain about this story but the stories we enjoy all too have winners and losers. We want to see the hobbits enjoy Saruman’s hoard. We want to see Bubba’s mom have a white housekeeper. We want to rejoice with the troops as they plunger the tyrant’s wealth which was taken through their oppression.
The tensions we feel at the ending of the book of Esther are tensions we live with throughout the Biblical narrative. We have Jesus dying on the cross forgiving his enemies and we have triumphant Jesus leading the principalities and powers in triumphal procession at the same cross in Colossians 2:15. Passage after passage have Jesus both dying AND Jesus ruling with an iron scepter. Both are advent images and both are felt in the book of Esther.
As a preacher I like to read Revelation 21:1-7 but too often cut short at verse 8:
Revelation 21:8 (NET)
8 But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.”
If I look at that list I can’t exclude myself nor many of my friends from that list.
What sense are we to make of Jesus who loves enemies, dies for them, and also throws them into the lake of fire? Can we celebrate with Esther, Mordecai and the Jews at their triumph over their enemies?
One of the most chilling depictions of evil in movie story telling today was the Joker from The Dark Knight. In an interview with Christopher Nolan the director there were a lot of questions about the backstory of the Joker. The joker tells a lot of conflicting backstories in the movie that don’t mesh. Nolan makes the point in an interview that a backstory would make him less terrifying. A backstory helps us sympathize with the character but the struggle of the story for Batman is not that he needs to sympathize with the Joker but he needs to overcome him. This creates an enormous conflict for Batman repeatedly because there are moments when he’s able to kill the Joker, and the Joker wants him to but Batman knows he would kill the Joker at the cost of his own integrity.
Our problem with evil, like Batman’s problem with the joker, like God’s problem with us is that we are all balled together. How can evil be overcome? Will it be overcome?
You might have caught that line from Bono “I hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme”. He’s riffing off a Mark Twain quite that says “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.
This story of Esther is a rhyme of our story and the world’s glorious fulfillment. The victory of Esther and Mordecai that came seemingly out of nowhere, when God was seemingly invisible and no where to be found, rhymes with the victory over evil that we hope for.
U2’s Advent song prays for our hope and history to begin to rhyme and faith is the belief that it will.
We Are Located in Jesus’ Conflict
Can I write an answer that finally squares the conflict between Jesus on the cross and Jesus on a white horse in the book of Revelation that will satisfy everyone? Probably not. How can we approach this conflict, or tension, or paradox in Advent?
The best way to approach it is not resolution of an abstract answer described in English, but rather living within Jesus’ narrative. Located within the age of decay we are called to live out Jesus’ sacrificial place on the cross, enduring loss, forgiving enemies. It is Jesus sacrifice that turns enemies into friends and sinners into saints. It is Satan’s kingdom that is robbed at the cross and by the sacrifice. The cross is humanity’s greatest sin and shame and greatest hope.
This loss is offered in the hope of the resurrection and the final triumph of that day that rhymes with Esther’s victory and Mordecai’s vindication. This hope gives us strength and endurance to suffer what we must suffer now. It shortens the suffering and makes it fruitful. The resurrected body of Jesus whose scars the disciples touched with their hands is the promise that evil will be defeated and the injustice of the history of the world will be made right one day.
Allied soldiers will drink Hitler’s wine. Hobbits with smoke the wizard’s pipe weed. The poor will be consoled, the victims healed and the hungry will be fed. Does any other story on earth promise such a thing? Enjoy the rhymes.