The book of Esther is not usually used during the Advent period, but I believe there is much in here that we can hear and reflect on. So that we can get straight into this reflection during worship let me give you some background of the story here – read this before you come to worship!
The Book of Esther opens with an enormous 180-day party thrown by the King of the Persian Empire, ruling over 127 provinces. As the days of feasting draw to a close, he summons his wife, Vashti, to show off her beauty by appearing wearing only her crown. But Vashti refuses, so the king banishes her. After a while, he begins to miss his queen. His officials propose an elaborate beauty contest of all the kingdom’s beautiful maidens, from whom he can choose a new queen. From all over the 127 provinces, beautiful women are brought to the palace, trained in ways that please him, given lessons in clothes and makeup, and one by one introduced to the king for a night.
Esther is a Jew who lives in the capital city. She is an orphan who was raised by her uncle, Mordecai, one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. When they come to take her to the palace, Mordecai insightfully instructs her not to reveal who her family is or that she is Jewish. After a 12 month process, Esther is deemed the fairest of them all. “The king loved Esther more than all the women, of all the virgins she won his favour and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Mordecai doesn’t tell anyone he is related to the new queen, but he does frequent the palace gates to hear news of Esther’s wellbeing.
One day he overhears two men plotting to murder the king and he quickly sends word to Esther, who reveals the plot to the king in the name of Mordecai. The plotters are caught and executed, and Mordecai’s name and deed are written in the king’s Book of Chronicles. In the meantime, the king appoints Haman as Prime Minister and issues a decree that all should bow to him. Mordecai refuses to bow down before Haman. Mordecai’s refusal infuriates Haman.
Already driven by his family’s historic hatred of the Jewish people, Haman goes to the King at the beginning of the year with 10,000 silver pieces and asks for permission to destroy the Jews. He presents the issue to the king as a matter of loyalty, saying “There is a certain people, scattered and spread out among the peoples in all the states of your kingdom, their laws are different from other peoples and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not worth it for the king to leave them alive.” The king agrees and issues an edict to all 127 provinces saying that on the 13th day of the 12th month, the Jews in all the provinces are to be exterminated and their property kept as plunder.
Upon hearing this vile edict, Mordecai puts on sackcloth and ashes. He quickly sends word to Esther that she must go to the king and stop this horrible decree from becoming reality.
This is where we pick up our reading at Chapter 4 Let’s explore this more when we gather.
(Thank you to Teri Peterson for this summary)