The Beloved Community and Imperial Treachery

An Epiphany in America on the Epiphany

I’ve spent most of the afternoon watching terrorists storm the nation’s Capitol. I imagine you have been, too. Frightening, angering, painful events — a shock to our souls and the nation’s soul.

Last night, I was deeply moved when Rev. Raphael Warnock won the Senate seat from Georgia. The reality of the pastor from Martin Luther King’s church being elected as the first black senator from his state — a fitting historical moment, lengthening the arc of justice — made me weep with joy. It spoke hope of moving past white supremacy and racism forward, finally, to being a community of greater equality. Those of you who know my work well know that I’ve written, preached, taught, and prayed for us to be both the church and the America we can be.

Today, was the opposite of that vision.

And it is the Feast of the Epiphany, a Christian celebration of the “revelation,” of light, of love, of Jesus for and in the world.

Much we’ve not wanted to see has been revealed today. Ours has been a sad epiphany.

The story that Christians read for Epiphany is from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a story of a beautiful revelation, a star leading those longing for peace to the birthplace of Jesus. And it is a story of imperial treachery. If you haven’t read it recently, here is the text:

Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "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." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`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.'" 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then 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." When 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. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

I share this tonight because at the very beginning of the Christian story, we are warned that the birth of peace and justice is intertwined with the reality of imperial violence. As the beloved community comes into the world, evil kings will lie and murder — do anything — to stop the possibility of God’s dream made manifest here and now.

So what do we do?

Be like the magi. And do not give in to Herod.

The best wisdom I have tonight is that the wise men were, indeed, wise. This is the time to pause amid the yelling (and I’ve been doing a lot of yelling on Twitter!) and remember the light of the star. Remember the angelic song of peace. Remember the longing of our hearts for a governance of grace. And remembering, we continue on following the star. It will stop. We can kneel, worship, be overcome with joy. Even through Herod lies, God’s presence does not absent itself. Love is still here.

And then — once we let that truth fill us — we do not go home the way we came. Because there will always be some Herod whose fear leads to violence and death. We will leave this Epiphany by another road.

I don’t know where that other road will take us. But we can’t continue on the road we’ve been traveling. If nothing else, I’m glad we’re on this journey together. There are many who see more clearly today than yesterday, and many who will be searching for the star. Look up. Salvation is at hand.

Although some are you are aware of this, others may not know: I live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Many of my close friends and colleagues live in the city, most of my neighbors work in the government. I ask you for your prayers for our city, for the good people who live here and who genuinely work for the common good, for the leaders and members of our churches and synagogues and temples and mosques who will be grieving and angry as we approach worship this coming weekend. Please pray for the nation. And please pray for the family of the woman murdered in the attack today.

There is much more, of course, to say, to express our pain and outrage, to work for justice, in the coming days and weeks. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and your families tonight. Cry, swear, pray, lament. God is with us. Every feeling is holy.

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From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion;
from violence, battle, and murder;
and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.
—Book of Common Prayer

Pray for protection.
Ask for guidance.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come,
and then
let them go.
Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way,
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you
but by the star
that blazes inside you, telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome
—Jan Richardson

Shepherd of Israel
and Light of all Nations,
made known in the gifts
of those who call to other names
and walk on different ways:
may unjust powers
and the hatred within us
be dismayed by your friendship
and dethroned by your love;
through Jesus Christ, the open arms of grace.
—Steven Shakespeare

To world leaders grant the wisdom
to see beyond the boundaries of race, religion, and nation
to that common humanity that makes us all your children
and brothers and sisters to one another.
—Peter Scagnelli

Please forgive any typos or grammatical mistakes tonight. Proofreading isn’t my strength right now.

God bless you.

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