It’s time to reclaim January 6th. It’s time to remember that, for 2,000 years, this date had a meaning not at all connected with Donald Trump and the insurrectionist takeover of our nation’s Capitol.
I am not suggesting we “forget” the Insurrection and its murderous outcomes. I’m not suggesting we make the mistakes that the Capitol architect did, and erase all damage done by those who sought to overthrow the US Government. But I *am* suggestion that we remember what January 6th has always been (at least, for those of us in Western Christianity…)
Today is is the Feast Day of the Epiphany. It’s the date that comes after the end of the Christmas season. (That’s right, it’s only as of today that season is *actually* over)
Epiphany is the day we recall the coming of the Magi to visit Jesus. And, we also tend to recall all the associated stories around it.
For Christians, because January 6th always already had a clear association and meaning in our heads, the past few years have been shall we say, surreal. It’s like those poor folks who had birthdays around September 11th for the first years after that horrific event. For several years, nobody wanted to celebrate anything in September.
Thankfully, that has passed, and the joy of September birthdays has returned.
I’m suggesting two things:
— It’s time to reclaim January 6th’s Epiphany message and what it teaches us.
— Simultaneously, we must never forget the Insurrection either.
Every character in the Epiphany story is full of fascination for us all.
That’s their real name. Anybody who tells you that they were kings —along the lines of, say, Charles— is kidding themselves. The word “Magi” is where we get our word “magician” from. They were sorcerers of a sort. If Evangelical Christians didn’t like the story so much, they might condemn them as practicers of “dark arts” or “witchcraft.”
Please understand, neither I, nor anyone else, actually know who they were or what spirituality they practiced. All we know is they aren’t claimed as Jewish, and they are claimed as foreigners. Therefore by definition must have practiced a foreign spirituality of some kind.
They are the patron saints of “night people” like me.
They travel light, and only after the Sun has set.
Because the foolishly follow a special star sent to guide them.
It takes a special holy foolishness to “follow a star,” at night, down a trail you’ve never traveled before. But in this story, the God of Jesus is guiding these “foreigners,” and it’s another classic reminder of how the God of the Bible works in and through what seems to be a strange assortment of people.
Being especially religiously devout, in an orthodox way, is never a prerequisite for being a part of God’s story.
The other foolish thing they do visit the *current* King in order to see where the new King is.
In this, of course, reveals naiveté on their part. It illustrates that they can’t possibly be *real* kings; because every real king knows that he never gives up power willingly.
But they pay a state visit to King Herod, showing respect for his office.
Herod in this story appears to be much like Herod in real life. In fact, you can make a credible argument that we probably know more about King Herod than any other character that appears in the Gospels. There are more actual sources that cite Herod, and his actual reign as king, that cite any other named Gospel character (including Jesus…).
What we know of the “real life” King Herod actually tracts quite closely with how Matthew portrays him.
The Gospels accounts of Jesus are always told with the political context in mind. We are invited to make this comparison, because the story itself inserts political issues into the narrative. I’m not creating this comparison…it’s literally RIGHT THERE in the text.
Twelve days ago, I posted about Christmas and reminded you how Luke’s Gospel Christmas story very intentionally sets itself in the context of Roman power. Luke’s Gospel names the Emperor and Governor. It tells us that Mary, Joseph, and poor jewish peasants like them, are all traveling in a forced migration, at the bidding of the Empire.
Much is happening in this story of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel. We must be honest, and say that there is no alternate source evidence to suggest that Herod murdered small boys. No one outside of Matthew tells that story. And many have suggested that because of this, it didn’t happen.
But let’s remember (while not allowing the next sentence to discount the horrific nature of the alleged act) the actual number of boys murdered would have “only” been 10-20…not hundreds and hundreds.
It’s credible to imagine that such an act, if it happened, would have never made to a broader audience.
But I’d suggest to you —since we don’t read the Bible as literal history— that whether it happened or not, the *tenor* of how Matthew portrays Herod is spot on.
The *actual* King Herod —described in other historical sources— murdered dozens of political rivals, gorged the eyes out of others. He murdered one of his own wives. He murdered three of his sons. He literally murdered one son as he, King Herod, was only hours away from death. He was described as bloodthirsty and deeply paranoid.
In fact, other historical source claim that when the Roman Emperor hears about all this, he quipped “It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”
(This is a dig, of course. Jews of the time wouldn’t have touched pigs. So, ironically, the Emperor is joking that unclean animal is apparently “safer” than a king’s son…)
I mean, if a Roman Emperor thinks you’re murderous and paranoid, it must really be bad.
All this is to say: Whether the events of the Epiphany unfold as they are described, they speak to the actual King Herod’s actual personality.
Early readers of the Gospel would have said, “Yeah…that sounds like King Herod…”
Therefore, since the Gospels invite us to these comparisons, ever since January 6th, 2020… I haven’t been able to shake the eerie comparisons of actual King Herod to actual Donald Trump.
Here’s how it looks to me:
They are both deeply paranoid.
They both desperately ordered about subordinates
They are both desperate to keep power, and in denial when told it would be taken from them.
They are both “stirred up” a whole city.
They both baldfaced lied other guests about their culpability. (Herod lies to the Magi. Trump, to all of us…)
And finally, they both saw nothing wrong with flying into a murderous rage when he didn’t get his way.
I mean, the parallels are chilling.
The new film, “Amsterdam,” is set in the 1930s. Like the story of the Epiphany, it uses real-life events events to tell a story…a story of *another* murderous plot to unlawfully overthrow the United States government.
We would do well to remember that while Amsterdam is fiction, it borrows from actual, true events. Facists leaders within the United States REALLY DID try to overthrow our government.
Rachel Maddow’s new podcast, “Ultra,” provide even MORE chilling backstory to how our nation was threatened from facism from within….and how leaders, and the public, basically “forgot” the story.
In Amsterdam, the character played by Margo Robbie, says this:
“The dream repeats itself since it forgets itself. That’s why it repeats itself. This is the good part. The bad part will repeat itself. But for now, this is the good part, in Amsterdam…”
History doesn’t repeat.
But it damn sure rhymes.
These polarities echo down through history to us all…
Love and murderous tyrants…
Hope and paranoia…
Peace and acts of aggression and violence…
Joy and anger…
“The dream repeats itself since it forgets itself.”
And so we must tell stories that remind us, so that we don’t forget. We must never stop telling the story of the Insurrection, and just how close our nation came to falling.
We must remind ourselves, as David O. Russell does in the film, about other fascist take over plots.
But the Epiphany reminds us that the story has repeated itself for millennia….not just decades.
And the Epiphany points to the “way forward.”
It tell us “Pay attention to the foreigners, not the murderous king…be like those night-traveler mystics…”
Do what they do…
Follow a star…
Stay on the trail…
Put one foot in front of the other…
Don’t freak out.