What an interesting coincidence that the violent attempt to overturn the presidential election of 2020 occurred on the day Christians celebrate Epiphany! On the first anniversary of that ugly day and as another Epiphany arrives, it seems appropriate to reflect on the relationship between them.
Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “appearance,” “manifestation,” or “revelation” and is commonly linked with the visit of the Magi to the Christ child (Matthew 2:1-12). The Magi, from the region of what we know as Iraq and Iran, were foreigners who studied the stars for signs of divine presence and revelation.
An implication of Matthew’s story is that the God made known in Jesus the Christ reveals God’s self in multiple ways and to ALL people. God’s saving presence is not limited to our religion, our race, our nation, our culture, our political party. God is sovereign over ALL!
Matthew portrays Jesus’ birth as a threat to prevailing political power. He specifically declares that the babe of Bethlehem is “king”! That’s an obvious threat to King Herod, who ruled the known world with brutality, violence, and cruelty.
Maintaining power was Herod’s priority and he would go to any length to hold onto that power, including killing members of his own family and innocent children. He was deceptive by pretending that he was only wanting to pay homage to the newborn king. His methods were calculated, brutal, and catastrophic.
Herod’s actions were motivated by fear of losing power and he considered instilling fear in others a necessary means of control. He was enabled by throngs of supporters who, too, were afraid and who had bought into the lie that Herod ruled by divine authority.
Matthew’s story of the nativity and Herod’s response is as contemporary as today’s news! It is about more than Jesus, the magi, and Herod. It is about the human condition and the exercise of power and control, especially political power.
Power is addictive! Fear fuels the addiction, the fear of losing control. It’s present in all of us to varying degrees. However, when maintaining power and control results in deception, coercion, bullying, and violence, the results are pervasive and lethal for individuals, communities, and nations.
The storming of the nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was a blatant attempt to hold onto power and control. It was fueled by fear and a “big lie,” and it was enabled by some members of Congress, political advisors, and even some religious folk who believed that the former president was divinely anointed.
Jesus and Herod represent two “kingdoms” and two expressions of power. Herod represented the power of the Roman empire with its political and military clout. Jesus embodied “the kingdom of God,” the reign of love, justice, generosity, and peace/shalom. Herod was committed to the love of power. Jesus was committed to the power of love!
The insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, was an epiphany, a manifestation or revelation that Herod’s fears, methods, and abusive exercise of power remain with us.
Epiphany Day in the church year, however, reveals another kingdom at work in our world. It represents an alternative to the deception, coercion, bullying, and violence rooted in the fear of lost power and control.
That alternative is the way of compassion, justice, honesty, and service on behalf of the common good. It is the way shown to us by Jesus of Nazareth, about whom the Apostle Paul wrote: “. . . though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—-even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
May our celebration of Epiphany and the remembrance of the Insurrection of January 6, 2021, include renewed commitment to follow the One who transforms the world through the power of self-emptying love.
Wonderful commentary, once again, Bishop Carder! Please keep sharing God’s love and truth. It’s the only way we are going to heal; it’s the only way we are going to continue to become a more perfect Union.
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Thank you! Let’s all embody the love and truth incarnate in Jesus the Christ!
Thank you, Bishop: not the love of power … but the power of (Jesus’) LOVE! T. Few – Mebane NC
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So appreciate your clear insight on the connections between history and today!
We must learn our history and not repeat our past mistakes. Thanks, Bishop.
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I agree that the implication of Matthew’s story is that God reveals God’s self in many ways and to all people. What kind of God would we worship who could be limited by our biased human thinking? God is the great I AM who will be whomever God chooses to be. We do not limit God.
Reblogged this on philipamerson.
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A New Testament scholar has said, “Scoff not at Herod until you have acknowledged the Herod in yourself!” This nativity story is not about the moral character of Herod. It was a known fact that Herod was “a murderous old man.” I find it rather strange that Rev. Carder chooses to elaborate on the character of Herod when this nativity story has so many other and more important implications regarding Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. In the world which humans inhabit, human rulers will always preside, and each, in their own way will represent and embrace characteristics that (more or less) reflect the nature of fallen humanity. King Herod (who had multiple resources at his disposal) vs. the child Jesus (who could not act on his own) made for an unequal contest.
Rev. Carder chooses to make this a story about politics instead of a story about the messianic and salvific strategy of God. Of course, a reading of the Church Fathers indicates that they had little to no interest in the political emphasis suggested by Rev. Carder. Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, to name a few, read this story in light of the Church’s faith in the eschatological victory of God to be achieved in Jesus Christ.
Embracing any form of political eschatology makes for a very messy and partisan hermeneutic. Matthew was guided by what might be called “salvific eschatology.” He saw the guidance of God that did not let the vulnerability of the child Jesus sabotage God’s intended method to redeem the world (see John 3:16).
Any political dimension one might extrapolate from this story is incidental at best, and without any force of relevance for Matthew. Note that I labeled political eschatology as a “very messy and partisan hermeneutic.” Rev. Carder’s connection of “the insurrection of January 6, 2021” with the Season of Epiphany is an effort to legitimize his political hermeneutic by associating it with ecclesiastical recognition/authority where none exists. There are many reasons why people participated in the activity of January 6, 2021. To identify everybody under the “struggle for power” label is foolish. Certainly, there were a few leaders and instigators, but most were frustrated and disillusioned American citizens. Many of them were our neighbors, fellow church members, veterans, patriots according to their reading of history; and some were just thrill-seekers acting out of boredom or curiosity. Given the quality of human nature, suffice it to say that it would be impossible to compose an exhaustive list of motives for participation in such an event.
Notwithstanding all of the above, I will succinctly state my disquietude with Rev. Carder’s article. Like many United Methodist preachers today, he does not have the courage to say what his political hermeneutic disguises. He really wants to say that Donald Trump is Herod and the conservatives who support him incited and participated in an “insurrection” to keep him in power. Responses such as, “No, he didn’t say that”; or, “That’s not what he meant” confirms my claim that interpreting scripture via political eschatology can make for “a very messy and partisan hermeneutic.” Just say it, Rev. Carder. You are a political liberal and you bring that to your understanding of Scripture. The people you serve/served under the authority of ordination have a right to know that you are guided by a biased hermeneutic, but so are all of us. Honest preaching/teaching requires that we transparently admit this and make it clear that ours is not the only political view that can be defended. Of all the possibilities that exegesis of this story offers, the moral character of Herod was not one of them. It was never meant to define Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Very interesting, Ken. Thank you.