Happy New Year! I expected this first message of the year to be full of joyful greetings. We experienced many challenges in 2020, and now we see hope on the horizon thanks to the vaccines being administered. While I celebrate this progress and its implications for our ability to gather in person in the future, I, like many of you, have had my hopes dampened by the political reality we have experienced the last few months and especially the events this week on January 6.
January 6, the Feast Day of the Epiphany, the showing or manifestation of Christ. January 6, the day when children in Tucson and many parts of the world excitedly await a visit from the magi. January 6, a day we often associate with the light of a star that shows the way to that light that is the Christ. But what does this light show us today? What does it reveal in this time and place of history? What do we see?
We see these headlines in our country and around the world: “Insurrection at US Capitol.” “US Capitol Hill Stormed.” “Rampage at the Capitol.” “Coup.”
We see the images on our televisions and phones: Citizens, some dangerously armed, almost all White, already holding grievances with their government, and whose beliefs have been influenced by conspiracy theories for months and years were stoked and incited by our President to go to the US Capitol and forcefully get what they want. We see the flood of lies from this President that deceived people into believing that elections were fraudulent, and the results could be overturned. Thus, images show a group of people with grievances going from protestors to rioters and insurrectionists. We see the video of the traitorous flag of the Confederacy carried through the Capitol and gallows built on the lawn.
We see the power of White supremacy in the entitlement of those in the crowd to believe they could breach barriers, trespass and ransack government offices without consequence, and literally steal an election to their favor.
We see the power of White supremacy and racism in our society in the starkly different reaction from law enforcement to the White mob on Capitol Hill compared to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests throughout our country in 2020. Law and order mean quite a different thing if your skin is White, a fact people of color in this nation live with each and every day. Rioters on January 6 faced little resistance going into the building. It took hours for additional police and the National Guard to arrive and even longer for them to coax the people to leave. We see a slow response to apprehend those who trespassed, vandalized, used violence, terrorized our lawmakers, and desecrated the center of our government.
We see people—our friends, the media, ourselves perhaps—struggling with our nation’s long-accepted notion of exceptionalism in the face of evidence that points to the contrary.
We see the failure of the church whose baptized children blasphemously carried the name of Jesus into the heart of that chaos.
I name these things we see, because ignoring them makes their destructive consequences more powerful. I name them because pretending they will go away on January 20 or in a few months is naïve and delusional. I name them because the light of Epiphany—the manifestation of the presence of the long-awaited Christ among us—calls us to name the truth of our reality and deal with the roots of its sin. For weeks during Advent, we waited expectantly for this light. At Christmas we celebrated its coming. And in this season of Epiphany, we celebrate that though it sometimes seems hidden, the light of Christ among us—the light of Emmanuel, God with us—persists in its strength, truth, justice, peace, and love. As we begin 2021 in these murky waters, may we make our way guided by the light of Christ. Guided by the light of God’s Reign and the promise of God’s persistent presence.
P.S. While living overseas, I learned the value of perspectives from across the globe. I encourage you to seek those perspectives as you make sense of the current situation in our country. I share with you this insight from Sri Lankan writer Indi Samarajiva. This link takes you to a piece he wrote in November, which includes (if you scroll down) a video recorded on January 7. Note: Samarajiva uses various expletives in the written piece and the video, but his insight is worth consideration.