What was revealed on Epiphany in Washington DC this past Wednesday? On January 6, a day in which the church celebrates the story of a journey by magi to Bethlehem, a mob of white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over their idol, the U.S. President.
The mob succeeding in disrupting this process for six hours, although they were eventually removed by the National Guard.
After the violence in Washington, many people suggested the mob were not representative of America. “This is not who we are,” said people like Biden.
Others disagreed. They argued these white supremacist thugs, drunk on conspiracy-theory falsehoods, are representative of the United States. “This is who we are,” they said, pointing to the country’s racist history – the conquest and genocide of First Nations; 246 years of slavery from 1619 to 1865; the 155 years of lynching, segregation, and voter suppression that has followed the end of slavery; and the 74 million votes received by America’s leading white supremacist and reality-denying conspiracist in the November 3 presidential elections.
They also pointed to the contrast between the level of police violence met by Black Lives Matter protestors last spring and summer and the much lighter hand shown to those who terrorized the legislative branch of the U.S. government on Wednesday.
An epiphany is an illuminating realization or discovery, usually leading to wonder and awe. Much of what was revealed this January 6 in Washington might strike us as frightening more than wonderful. But the same is true of the biblical story of Epiphany we heard this morning, I think.
Matthew’s story about three astrologers coming to Bethlehem contains notes of light and grace, including a guiding star, the Holy Family in Bethlehem two years after the birth of Jesus, and gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But it also contains notes of pitch darkness – the fear and rage of Rome’s Jewish puppet, King Herod; the flight to Egypt of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus following a warning in a dream; and the murder of all boys two years and younger in Bethlehem as part of Herod’s attempt to prevent the promise of Jesus from being fulfilled.
As in Matthew’s story, there was light as well as dark in news in the United States on January 6. On Wednesday, just before the white supremacist takeover of the Capitol, news media reported on the victory of two candidates for the U.S. Senate in the state of Georgia. The Rev. Raphael Warnock was elected its first Black senator and Jon Ossoff was elected its first Jewish senator.
Both Ossoff and Warnock received almost all the votes cast by Black people in Georgia, while their Republican opponents, who supported the President’s lies that he had not been defeated by Joe Biden and his wildly incompetent and deadly policies on COVID-19, received big majorities of the votes cast by White people.
Georgia has its first-ever Black and Jewish senators, but most of its White population remains firmly in the camp of racism, sexism, and the denial of important realities.
But do we know that the racist mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was wrong? Perhaps Joe Biden did not receive seven million votes more than the outgoing President. Like most such facts, we learn about the results of elections in community. If it is a community that trusts election officials and mainstream media, then we probably accept the certified results of November’s US elections, especially since they result from the work of tens of thousands of people who distribute and count ballots; party representatives who scrutinize the count; courts that hear legal challenges to the results; and reporters who publish the information.
But millions of Americans no longer belong to such communities. Instead, they trust the President whose alternative facts are created in online networks of racist and sexist conspiracy theorists.
Authority is fractured in the US today. The Associated Press may say that Biden won the election. But the most powerful and famous person in the world, the outgoing U.S. President, disagrees. So, who to believe?
Matthew’s story of the Epiphany can be seen from the angle of authority as well. The Magi accept guidance from a star and from their dreams while they reject Herod’s command to report back to him. They go home by a different route despite Herod’s authority.
The issue of who won the U.S. election is important because the President has so much power. Personally, I trust the Associated Press to inform me who won more than the U.S. President. But I also pray for and work to create an even more reliable source of authority – an international network of communities of love and justice that tries to understand the world as part of the struggle to heal it.
I wish the United States awarded the presidency to the person who received the most ballots cast and not the most Electoral College votes because the latter strikes me as arcane and weighted against urban voters. I wish we didn’t live in a world divided into competing nations and empires. I wish we had governments that focused on the needs of humanity and not just one slice of it, which might lead to the global cooperation required to end war and environmental destruction.
But, we live in the world as it is. So, I wait with bated breath for the inauguration on January 20 and hope that President Biden can help the world to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and allow us to sleep a little better despite the persistence of competition and weapons of mass destruction.
The task of discovering what is real — whether about election results or about war – is done in community. To decide if Herod is a more reliable authority than dreams and stars; and to decide if the U.S. President is a more reliable authority than the Associated Press, we need each other. This is yet another reason to join a church like Mill Woods United, I believe, and to work to situate it within a global network of other communities informed by sacred values.
On our own, it is difficult to discern between competing “facts.” But in a community of faith; in the debates of an engaged citizenry; and in the struggle for justice with people of goodwill from all corners of the world, we stand a better chance.
So, we gather in community to listen to the angels in our dreams, to seek guiding stars, and to find the courage to go home by a different route. We gather to retell ancient stories, to remember and discuss sacred values, and to try to make them real in family and neighbourhood.
May communities like this grow in their ability to help us both understand the world and to heal it.
May it be so. Amen.