January 6 is the day I would have been observing the Christian remembrance of Epiphany. (Yes, I know this means lots of different things to lots of different Christians, but I’m talking about me here, so remembrance.) But like everybody else, I was gripped by the scenes of insurrection unfolding in Washington, DC. Incited by the president, the loyalists he invited to rally with him became a terrorizing mob and stormed the Capitol building.
I’m sitting here in the wee hours of morning reclaiming space to ponder the Epiphany, and all I can think is the fact that as the violence was raging in and around the Capital Building, the president and his lawyers were calling senators – the same folk hunkered down under a table somewhere, taking cover from mob violence – urging the senators to delay the certification of the Electoral College results. He didn’t hear folks yelling in the background?
As the writer of the gospel of Matthew tells the story (Matthew 2), three wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for a baby. They asked around, “Hey, have you seen the baby King? Yeah, he’s Jewish. We are not, but that doesn’t matter. We saw a star and we have come to pay him some respect.”
King Herod heard about their inquiries and was afraid. Matthew says Herod was afraid as were all of the leaders and all of the people. So, Herod tries to get information about the baby’s whereabouts from these three men. He tells them, “y’all go on and keep looking and then come back and let me know where the baby is.”
The three wise men go on about their mission and the star they had been following leads them to Mary and Joseph’s house. They offer the gifts they had been carrying for this baby, and my heart just swells at how I imagine the scene. I love a baby shower!!! The three men must have visited for a while. They stayed long enough to go to sleep and have a dream. (I don’t know if they stayed at Mary and Joseph’s house but shout out to Mary and Joseph if they had the bandwidth to provide hospitality for strangers with a newborn. I don’t imagine Jesus was any different than any other baby, despite your hallmark cards. My first baby screamed for three months. Solid. I never slept. I digress….)
Of course, we all have questions about this story. Herod ain’t see that blazing star in the sky? And while I might buy that Herod was afraid, I’m not really swallowing the idea that all of the leaders and all of the people in Jerusalem were afraid about the same thing that had Herod fearful. My guess? They were afraid of Herod, not afraid of the news of Mary and Joseph’s child – the baby of their neighbors, a baby born to one of them, a new baby in the community. But Matthew doesn’t offer an interview with the man on the street, so….
I wasn’t there. But I am here 3 days after the 12th Day. And I know how leaders who rule by fear and the threat of violence scare everybody in the world. The fear is not respectful “awe.” It is the fear of power-hungry leadership hell-bent on destroying everything that does not yield to them. I wasn’t in Jerusalem, but I am here in the United States. I see how horrid, narcissistic, unfit, unstable, and violent leadership feeds on destruction. I see how this leadership has set the stage for a different kind of massacre. A virus that is ravishing the globe has killed 369,000 people just in the United States as of this writing. Instead of pulling out all stops to curb the loss of life, instead of calling on the country to work together to protect one another, instead of providing leadership that makes room for grief and lament so that people turn toward each other, with his delusional fears the president turned people on each other. Intent on staying in office against the will of the people, the president has set in motion a level of violence – physical and psychic – that is simply astonishing and yet, familiar.
Death and collateral damage are the calling cards for this kind of leadership because these leaders are so full of themselves that they won’t even look up to see what others see – a star in the sky.
Again – I wasn’t there. But I am here. The 12th day – “Epiphany” – is a reminder that the wise ones followed “revelation and insight” on a journey of honor. They went in search of someone intent on giving from their substance and their hearts. And practicing the journey toward each other, engaging in the practices of giving to one another from substance and heart positions us to see God in each other. I know that for myself.
Epiphany is also a reminder to pay attention to instinct and dreams. (Side note: since we are talking about a baby here, I’m gonna take the liberty to say — If your child says that someone makes them feel strange, if they say they don’t want to hug some adult or visit with somebody – listen. Please listen to them. When you do, you are teaching them to trust their own instincts over conventions and cultural norms that often put children at risk. If your child doesn’t want to hug Uncle Joe or Cousin Laura, why are you forcing it?)
Okay – my point here is pay attention to your instinct and dreams. Pay attention to common sense. Out of an abundance of caution, not trying to be part of the set-up, not wanting to tip off the feds, not trying to upstage the plans of the Liberator before he’s finished teething, not wanting to be complicit with power or promote the agenda of empire — whatever you are feeling but are too afraid to say: follow your instincts. Go home a different way, in the other direction, far away from the leaders who don’t have it in them, don’t have the insight to “uncenter themselves,” leaders who don’t care enough to stop and attend to the extraordinary, whether it be the extraordinary deaths in the land or the extraordinary star in the sky.
Matthew 2: 1-12 (NRSV)
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.