In our congregation we always observe Epiphany on the first Sunday of January, regardless of the date. But, the actual Festival of Epiphany falls on January 6th, after the 12 Days of Christmas. January 6th, 2021, brought a challenging Epiphany in our nation's history. We speak of Epiphany as a celebration of Christ's light, and the way that Christ's light guides us in our lives. We have the tradition of giving out "star words" for guidance in the year to come. Regardless of what "star word" you received, or where you may feel God's light guiding you personally, the events of Wednesday put a bright light on the depth and danger of our current political division, and what can come of not speaking out for truth and for the love of our neighbors.
In the schedule of pre-recorded worship, my sermon was written and ready before the Capitol insurrection took place. I tried to re-write before filming on Thursday, but could not find the words, and could not see through the fog toward where things might stand by Sunday. I recorded the Baptism of the Lord message that I already wrote with only a few adjustments. However, I know that we are all trying to process what is taking place in our nation. We are trying to find where Christ's light is shining in the midst of this Epiphany and it's aftermath. Today I offer my current reflections and links to other resources that I believe you may find helpful as you continue to reflect on the events of this week.
The Epiphany scripture is the story of the Wise Men/Kings/Magi (pick your translation) who come from the East to pay homage to the Christ-child (Matthew 2: 1-12). They follow the Star, their guiding light, seeking this new king. But the star does not lead them straight to the place where Jesus is, as much as our manager scenes might like to depict it that way. Instead they go to Herod, the Roman Leader of the region. Herod, as Matthew tells the story, listens to the Magi's story, and asks them to let him know when they find the child, so that he can pay him homage too. Our Epiphany reading always cuts off at verse 12, where the Magi are warned in a dream to not return to Herod, and they return to their land by another road. However, if you read on through the rest of Matthew chapter 2, we have the story of Herod's reaction. Herod realizes that the Magi did not fall for his deception, and he orders all male children under the age of two should be killed. It is a horrific act, reminiscent of the murders of Hebrew children from which Moses is spared in Exodus (chapters 1 & 2). Jesus is spared, because Joseph is warned in a dream to take his family and flee. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus become political refugees in Egypt until it is safe for them to return.
I often hear that politics and religion should not mix. But, I cannot agree. Our faith should always inform our politics. Our scriptures are full of stories about the political implications when God's ways do not align with the desires of those who are thinking only of how to maintain their own political power. We must always be cautious about being silent in the face of political power that is seeking its own gain and not concerned about the needs and inclusion of all people.
This coming Sunday, as always follows Epiphany, is Baptism of the Lord. Baptism is a powerful sacrament. It is a sacrament that marks us as God's children and proclaims that we are part of the universal church, the Body of Christ. Our baptismal waters are a constant reminder that God is always reaching out to us with grace and forgiveness. God knows that we will not get everything right, that we are going to mess things up, but God keeps calling to us, keeps loving us, and keeps guiding us toward the greater truth of God's powerful love.
In our Confirmation Class this year, Megan, Ryan, Jacsyn, and Lizzie are studying the questions that are asked at baptism. The first of those questions is, "Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?" In our classes, last fall we spent several sessions considering this question and what it means for our lives. What does it look like to trust in the gracious mercy of God? How does that shape the risks we are willing to take in our lives? How does it help us to stand up for what we believe is right, even if it may not be popular? How does trusting in God's gracious mercy shape the way we make decisions? And also, what does it mean to turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world? How do we renounce evil? How do we speak up when we see those with power in our world speaking in ways that do not affirm Jesus' message of love for God, our neighbors, and ourselves?
Tomorrow, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This is a celebration of the sacrament of Baptism and the way that it marks us and makes us part of the Body of Christ. I encourage you all in this week, as we continue to process the events of Epiphany and its aftermath in our nation to take time to reflect on your own answer to this baptismal question: "Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?"
For further reflection, I also recommend the following resources:
Prayer for Epiphany when there’s a ****show in our Nation’s Capitol from the Presbyterian Outlook. A beautiful short prayer for our nation.
We Worship with the Magi, Not MAGA: Epiphany reminds us that faith is not a prop for political power. By Tish Harrison Warren, published by Christianity Today. This comes out of a more conservative branch of the Christian Church. It offers a very thorough and thoughtful reflection on the complicity of Christians and way that Jesus' name was used among the insurrectionists.
PCUSA/National Council of Churches response, calling for the removal of President Trump. This is a PCUSA News story, covering the call from the National Council of Churches to remove President Trump from office. The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, is among the national church leaders who signed this call.
Westminster Presbyterian Church Worship for January 10th. If you are looking for a sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday that does directly address the events at the Capitol this week, I encourage you to watch the service from Westminster Presbyterian of Madison. The service will be posted on the page linked above on Sunday morning. Rev. Scott Anderson will be speaking to how the domestic terrorist groups who stormed the capitol on Wednesday have abandoned their baptismal identity.
May we all continue to seek God's loving light together.