Readings: Daniel 7:2-14; Daniel 3:75-81; Luke 21:29-33
Trafalgar Square in Central London boasts a column with a statue of Nelson on top, four great lions, some fountains, and four great plinths, three of which support enormous statues of military heroes and the fourth of which is empty. Or at least much of the time it is empty. In recent years there have been competitions to see what ought to go on this fourth plinth and the work of many artists, professional and amateur, has been exhibited on it.
In November 2005 a life-sized statue of Jesus was placed on the fourth plinth. Compared with the monsters on the other three plinths, men and horses many times magnified, this life-sized figure looked pitiable and pathetic. He was a pale and feeble creature, not impressive at all when compared with Nelson and his military companions. They are the right size and strike the right attitude for expressing power, importance, and significance. This is what makes the world go round, makes history, gets things done, and keeps them moving. He on the other hand was practically invisible in the great and busy square.
Today's reading from the Book of Daniel speaks about four monsters which represent four kingdoms, each more powerful, more important, and more significant than the one that preceded it. They are monstrous not just in their size and shape but in their cruelty and indifference. They came, they saw, and they conquered ... but each in turn corrupted and collapsed, each in turn gave way to a monster greater than itself.
Into the midst of this heaving of monsters comes one like a son of man, a human being, representing a different kingdom, one that has its origins and strength in God, and it is his kingdom that is eternal. The more empty and insecure a kingdom, the more vacuous and superficial it is morally and spiritually, then the more it needs the panoply of monstrosity. Like the visions that tormented Saint Antony the Hermit the monsters of the Book of Daniel are full of sound and fury, flamboyant and distracting, but in the end they are devoid of meaning and value, and they fall under the weight of their own emptiness.
The kingdom of God, a kingdom of love and truth, is full and secure, strong and reliable, and it can be among us without the panoply of monstrosity. The kingdom of God is among us like a human being among monsters (Daniel). The kingdom of God is among us like a young woman who is expecting a child (Isaiah). The kingdom of God is among us like a lamb at the centre of apocalyptic turbulence (Revelation).
All the things foretold by Jesus in the course of Luke 21, and which we have heard again these past few days, things monstrous and apocalyptic, all of these things are fulfilled in a young man stripped, led to death like a lamb, crushed by the powers of this world, raised on a cross in foolishness and weakness ... but because of who he is, because of the love in his heart, and because of the truth on his lips, this foolishness is the wisdom of God and this weakness is God's strength.
And yet we often want God to show Himself in the garb of worldly kingdoms, with glorious pomp and terrifying majesty. That would all be more impressive, would it not, more convincing, and more effective. One person looking at the statue of Jesus in Trafalgar Square said 'if that's Jesus Christ, it's a bloody miracle. You couldn't put your faith in someone like that, he's as weak as a kitten'. Another said that 'his smallness just shows what little meaning Christianity has in the world today.' The artist, Mark Wallinger, said he wanted to give Jesus a place among the oversized imperial symbols because he was 'at the very least a political leader of an oppressed people'. Another comment begins in sentiment but ends in the most profound thought quoted: 'I just want to go up there and give him a hug ... he looks so vulnerable you just want to take him home. Seen from the side, it's just amazing. And the closer you get the more young and beautiful he gets'.
It becomes an invitation to reconsider our perspective on Jesus, and our position in relation to him. Seen from the side - what can it mean? - it's just amazing. You want to take him home, at first on account of his vulnerability but later for other reasons. Because the closer you get the more young and beautiful he gets. The monstrosities have their day and bite the dust. The one raised on the cross, weak as a kitten, continues to draw all people to himself. It is he who will reign for ever and ever, this Beauty, ever ancient and ever new, for the closer you get the younger and more beautiful our God is.