The part of the Epiphany story I have always found most haunting is Matthew 2:3: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”
This one line speaks to an insecure and immature political leader who the people understand will do damage if he feels threatened. It foreshadows the slaughter of the innocents that we read about just a few verses later.
In the United States, we have become far too familiar with insecure and immature political leadership. And today we are seeing the results of that leadership in a dramatic way: Trump supporters have stormed the US Capital and disrupted the process of Congress certifying election results.
Donald Trump was frightened, and all the United States with him.
So I’m scouring the Epiphany story for some guidance on how to deal with such petty yet dangerous leaders, how live among systems that capitulate to such a leader’s bullying insecurities. My thoughts on this are not polished. And they are far from the traditional “light” and “inclusion” and “gifts for the sweet baby” sentiments that generally accompany Epiphany messages. But here are my thoughts for how we move forward faithfully with Herod(s) in our midst:
- Remember that fighting unjust power is worth the risk. The magi sought the messiah—the true source of power that was beyond the petty, flawed systems of worldly authority. It was a risky journey on many levels, and I often question just how wise the “wise men” were to blurt out to King Herod that they were looking for the real king. But we must all take risks if we want to unmask false power and live in ways that are faithful to the true power of God.
- Bring gifts! I don’t really know how this is relevant to US politics except I like the idea of shiny gold and good smells accompanying us in the midst of the hard journey and the need to deal with impossible politicians. I like the thought of fancy, royal/presidential gifts being given to a poor toddler who can’t even appreciate them or use them.
- Find the joy! While verse 3 haunts me, verse 10 inspires me: “When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” Because however bleak things look, there is a power greater than the political powers that are screwing everything up. Yes, there are Herods in the world and the myriad people who will follow—or at least cower before—them. But there are also Marys in the world: people who will proclaim the downfall of tyrants and do their work bravely and love their people fiercely. There are Josephs in the world: people who will believe and support the Marys, who will listen to their own dreams and thwart the plans of Herods. There is hope and resistance and, when we stumble upon it–by design or by luck–we should claim the joy.
- Finally, don’t buy the b.s. Herod wanted to worship Jesus? Right. Just like Trump wants the “protestors” to go home. We have to be smart about who we trust and how we trust and which route we take.
So . . . happy Epiphany?
May you find comfort in this Epiphany season as we remember who does–and who does not–have ultimate power in this world . . . and beyond.
May you find courage, inspiration, and joy in this story of the wise ones, the strong parents, and the child who threatened Herod.