On this Feast of the Epiphany, we remember the arrival of magi from the East who had followed the star to Bethlehem, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to present to the newborn messiah. Before coming to the manger, they first stopped to inquire where the babe was to be found, asking none other than the ruthless and brutal Herod the Great. When the magi are warned not to return to Herod with news of where they found Jesus, Herod does what dictators do, trying to hold onto power at any cost, and he orders the Slaughter of the Innocents, every male child under the age of two in the city of Bethlehem.
This painful story from our scriptures is one we don’t often hear. It is commemorated on December 28, when most of us are still aglow with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. We miss this day at our peril, because from the beginning, Jesus was a target of state violence. Jesus disrupted the idea that worldly kingdoms have true power, that kings of the earth are invincible. Jesus points to another way: the way of the cross, the way of love.
All of this forms the backdrop for the events we’ve watched unfold today in our nation’s capital. An insurrectionist mob stormed the Capitol building, sending legislators and staffers into lockdown, apparently leading to the death of at least one person, and sending into chaos the routine democratic process that assures the peaceful transfer of power which we usually take for granted.
Like many of you, I never imagined I would see anything quite like this. Yes, I’ve waded into crowds of neo-Nazis and Proud Boys and White Supremacists, and I know the violence of which they are capable. Yet, to hear the outgoing President of the United States encourage his followers in this march to the Capitol Building and the relative ease with which they entered it left me feeling sick and agitated. Images of confederate flags and looting of furniture and the barricading of the House chamber will be hard to forget.
However, as shocking as this day has been, it is not really unexpected. We have seen the increasing belligerence of those who perpetrate conspiracy theories and spout lies and misinformation concerning the election and all manner of other issues. Since the election of a Black president in 2008, racist violence and white supremacist activity have burgeoned. And the rise of evangelical Christian nationalism has added the fuel of religious fervor. It is a toxic mix that has led to the deaths of more than 350,000 Americans because so much doubt has been cast on science and what it takes to address a pandemic, an atmosphere in which anyone with a Twitter account can influence opinion without having any actual expertise.
It was when I watched the erection of a cross in front of the Capitol today and the Christian flag being paraded through the building that the Epiphany message struck home in a visceral way. The Christian life is not about power. It is not about dominance. It is not about protecting our privilege.
God came to earth as an infant, the most powerless stage of human life,
…being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
Every step of Jesus’ life was to point to the powerless and the poor and the marginalized and to say this is God’s reign. And those with temporal power could not permit that, they could not take it, and so they crucified him.
Even as I write this, things in Washington are very unsettled. This will continue to unfold in the days ahead. It is clear that there must be wide-ranging consequences for those who incited and carried out the violence today.
But for tonight, we, like the magi, have a choice. We can go back the way we came, unchanged by our encounter with Jesus, or we can go home by another road. A road that leads us to love of neighbor. A road paved with justice and equity for everyone. A road that speaks truth to hate and evil. A road paved with the kind of love that lays down its life for another. There is not and never has been a Herod who can overcome the power of the love we share in Christ Jesus. Of that you may be assured.
Know that my prayers are with you all. I am grateful for your continued prayers for my recovery from knee replacement, and while my medical leave continues, I will say more on these news events if the need should arise.
The Collect for Epiphany
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
With faith and love,