And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the wise men left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:12)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I find myself writing these words at 4:30am after the joint houses of congress voted to ratify the electoral votes. It has been a strange week to be on a brief vacation – reflecting on the events that occurred on the day of Epiphany 2021. After almost seven years serving as your Executive Presbyter, it is no secret that I have always appreciated the season of Epiphany as it encourages and inspires me to look for the light that breaks into the darkness. It is part of my heritage as a Latinx leader. My original reflections written for this Friday speak to that hope and encouragement – a hope that allows me to not surrender to the darkness and despair. But there is another part to the story of Epiphany.
The story of hope and light at Epiphany is also the story of corrupt power as we are reminded of how King Herod used his resources to plot and execute the unthinkable – children would be slaughtered in his quest to secure his position. I must confess, I rarely think of King Herod when I think of Epiphany; maybe that is like thinking about Easter without acknowledging Good Friday. It was his corruption that justified the slaying of first-born sons. Three decades later, it would be another Herod who would play a role in securing the crucifixion of Jesus. Corruption seeds corruption across generations – this cannot be denied.
In light of this truth, the role of the sages becomes a poignant lesson for us as we continue to reflect on what we have witnessed in our nation’s capitol. When confronted with corruption and evil intent, the sages continued on their journey to find the newly born king. They were resolute in their mission. But more importantly, they chose to not participate in the bidding of the corrupt king. When confronted with the awareness of King Herod’s intent of harming the innocent child, the three wise men choose to find another way home.
Friends, we are being confronted with powers and forces that are not of God. Regardless of our partisan leanings, the crosses and the flags toted at the capitol do not speak to either our faith or our patriotism. We, like the sages – must consider what path we will choose as the church of Jesus Christ. Will we have the courage to revisit our assumptions and our denials, understanding perhaps they have become our contemporary idols informing our discernment?
Looking for the light of Epiphany and hope matters. Acknowledging that the light will not surrender to violence or the despair of darkness matters. But it means very little if we – as the church – do not become the light in this world. Like the three sages, we are called to find another way. We must be a people who resist forces that incite fear, hate, division and violence. We must be a people who courageously lean into difficult conversations – modeling for the world – another way, another road.
Like many of you, I have family and friends living in D.C. (including my son who was in lockdown). I was in touch (via text) with the newly appointed chaplain of the House – the Rev. Margaret Kibben (minister member of our presbytery) and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins – Executive Director of the PCUSA Office of Public Witness. I was aware that my colleague’s daughter was a journalist at the capitol during the assault. My mind and heart were preoccupied with the safety of many. My prayers could not keep up with my mind and heart.
Friends, what we witnessed on January 6, 2021 does not reflect who we are called to be as a people of faith or who we aspire to be as a nation. The images looked like images of places far away. But they were not far away – reminding us this is also a part of who we are as nation. Denying this will be to our detriment. We cannot redeem or reframe what we are unwilling to claim. The next weeks and perhaps longer, we might get insights into how our capitol was assaulted so easily. We will slowly get answers to the surreal difference in security from the peaceful protests of this summer, demonstrating how the sin of racism and white supremacy continue to show its real and present danger. And all that will be important – but the long-term and critical consideration before us is the road we choose as our path forward as leaders of the church.
I am confident that the light breaks into the darkness – but as I was reminded Sunday – we are not only called to look for the light of Epiphany – we are to be that Epiphany light of God’s hope for a broken world. May our common resolve and commitment to the Gospel give us the courage necessary for a time such as this.