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Darkness and Light

Darkness and Light

Last Wednesday, January 6, Christians, from all over the world and here in the United States, marked the Feast Day of Epiphany. It is a day when Christians celebrate the light of Christ entering into our dark world; God’s Word made flesh for people of all ages, nations, races, and genders. In other words, when it comes to God’s grace, all means all. It is also a day that we commemorate the Magi’s visit to the Christ child bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi were non-Jewish. They were Persians. Epiphany lauds, as well, the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.
When King Herod the Great heard about the Wise Men from the East, who traveled a long, difficult journey, following a star, seeking to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews, he became frightened. Secretly, he called for the Wise Men to appear before him, and he learned from them the exact time of the star’s appearance. He sent them on to Bethlehem with the instruction that when they find the child, they should report back to him so that he could also go and pay this new king adulation. Herod had no intention of paying respect but wanted to put an end to any threats to his reign.
The Roman Senate named Herod the king of Judea. When he became king, he went after the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, and gutted it of its political power. He ordered the death of many of its members. He also had three hundred court officials killed. He guarded his power and his kingdom closely and had a personal bodyguard of more than two thousand soldiers. William Barclay, a New Testament theologian, presented a captivating portrait of just what kind of a king Herod was. Herod eliminated all threats to his throne including ordering the executions of his wife, Mariamne, and his sons Aristabulus, Alexander, and Antipater. The Roman Emperor Augustus said, “It was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” In addition, he had his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and grandfather-in-law killed. He also gave orders that Jerusalem’s most distinguished citizens be arrested on false charges and imprisoned so that when he died, they would be killed. He knew that no one would mourn his death. He wanted to ensure that when he died, tears would flow.
Dictators, the world is full of dictators and wannabe dictators. It always has been. It is a tale as old as time. Having traveled through communist East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and having stood in the Conference building on the DMZ looking out the window into North Korea, I know, for sure, that I do not want to live in a land where the Herods of the world rule. I am so grateful that I live in a democracy.
The Wise Men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and tell him the whereabouts of this newborn child born to be the King of Kings. And fortunately, for us, they listened.
As we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany in the cathedral of our hearts, darkness descended upon our nation’s capital as rioters and thugs desecrated the Temple of Democracy, the People’s House, where the US Senate and House of Representatives debate and make decisions that affect our lives.
We were shocked as we witnessed the images of mob violence, of looters, vandals, breaking windows, overrunning the Capital Police, ransacking offices, and parading through the entire building. Tragically, at least five people have died as a result of the riot. Wednesday will long live in our memories. Glued to the news, I stayed up late in the night and early into the morning hours watching the House and the Senate count the electoral votes. Though the rioters attempted to disrupt and thwart the democratic process, democracy did not crumble, and the will of the people prevailed. This is a great country, and I know that we will get through this storm as previous generations have weathered and navigated so many other storms. Democracy can, if protected, triumph over dictators of despair, and over architects of anarchy and tyranny.
As people of faith, as people of hope, we wonder, how do we respond and hold true to who we are as followers of Christ, as followers of the One who stopped his own disciples from creating an insurrection? As followers of the One who said to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52, NIV) Christ reached out his hand and healed Malchus’ ear. (John 18: 10–11) We do not follow in the footsteps of those who sow discord, strife, fear, hatred, and violence. We eschew those who seek to rob others of their dignity as children of God. We follow in the footsteps of the One who brought healing and hope to broken and desperate people.
As a people of faith, we are called to work for justice and peace. The prophet Micah declared, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6: 8 NRSV)
May we, as individuals and as a nation, seek to be the people God calls us to be.
Michael Gehring is Senior Pastor of Main Street UMC and author of The Oxbridge Evangelist: Motivations, Practices, and Legacy of C.S. Lewis.

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