How Will We Remember January 6?
It’s a painful coincidence that the first attack on the Capitol since 1812 happened on Epiphany, the day the Church remembers Herod’s reaction to those strange visitors who were searching for the new-born king.
I hope you’ll pause to read the shocking story as if you were reading the daily news in Matthew 2. It may surprise you!
We know more about what happened on January 6 than we know about the wise men. We don’t know their names, where they were from, what to call them — magi? kings? astrologers? — or how many came. Matthew tells their story to announce who Jesus is and the disruptive difference his presence makes in our world.
But we know a lot about Herod. He was an insecure, narcissistic, manipulative politician who was so threatened by the potential loss of power that he used deception and violence to keep it. We know about the religious leaders around him who were equally unsettled by the suggestion of a new king and played into Herod’s vicious hand. And we know that “all Jerusalem” was just as disturbed as Herod was. That sounds like a big crowd!
Is this starting to sound uncomfortably familiar?
Fear of the Outsiders
We know that the magi were neither Roman nor Jew. They were racial, religious, ethnic outsiders whose presence threatened folks in the existing power structure who feared they would be “replaced” by people who didn’t look, think or act like them.
Let’s name the painful history some politicians want to hide. Ever since the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants arrived as the establishment in the Colonies, we’ve had a hard time accepting outsiders — Jews, Catholics, Germans, Irish, Italians, Japanese, Haitians, Muslims, women … the list goes on. And percolating beneath that resistance is the relentless evil of slavery and racism.
The mob that desecrated the heart our democracy was almost exclusively white and male. Behind the call to “take back our country” is the Great Replacement Theory, the recurrent chant reverberating from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, “They will not replace us!”
But it’s not only a resistance to inclusion and cultural change; it’s the denial of the fundamental biblical affirmation that every human being bears the image of God, that “all [people] are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” That word all continues to be the most unsettling word in our Constitution. (Read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent).
The Power of a Lie
Herod’s instinctive reaction was the lie that he wanted to find Jesus to worship him. That lie resulted in the magi sneeking home by a secret way, the Holy Family fleeing as refugees in Egypt, and the slaughter of all the Bethlehem boys two years old and under. Lies, repeated loudly and often enough, have great power.
The “Stop the Steal” insurrection was based on the historic pattern of “The Big Lie” by the first President in our history who refused to accept the results of an election and participate in a peaceful transfer of power.
Although there is no empirical evidence to support the claim that’s been disproven in multiple recounts and rejected by every court where it has been tried, we all have friends or relatives who still believe it. But like every lie, this one continues to have destructive and deadly consequences.
Epiphany declares that the light of truth has come into our darkness in the child in Bethlehem who would later say, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
The Jesus Insurrection
What’s most unsettling for this Christian preacher is what one scholar called, “White Christianity’s Role in the January 6th Insurrection.”
I saw the banners with Jesus’ name. I’ve listened to some of the pseudo-preachers who fired up the crowd on that fateful morning. I’ve watched the “evangelical” spokespersons who appear on cable news networks. I’ve searched for anything that is consistent with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). I’ve tried to find anything that bears any resemblance to the Jesus who appears in the gospels. I’ve looked for anything that evidences the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) But I can’t find it.
Herod had good reason to be afraid. The Jesus the wise men found caused an insurrection, sure enough. He came to turn our world upside-down and our lives inside-out. His truth undermines all our attempts to live with lies. His light penetrates all the dark corners where we hide our selfish greed, arrogance and pride. His compassion calls us to act in response to the needs of others. His love demands that we love others the way we love ourselves. And in the end, Christ will, in fact, reign over every ruler, nation or power. (1 Corinthians 15:23, Revelation 11:15)
That’s why C. S. Lewis declared: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
The sabotage of love revealed in Christ creates an insurrection that’s worth being a part of!
Grace and peace,