Epiphany - Light Entering into the Darkness
January 7, 2018
Good morning. As I was reading the scriptures of the current lectionary, my attention was caught by the readings of Epiphany, which were those of yesterday, Saturday. I somehow wanted to hold on one moment more to the time of Christmas, of light entering into the darkness of the world. Today’s reading, about the baptism of Jesus, seemed like too large a leap ahead. Perhaps it was the cold and stillness of this week, which has led to pipes freezing in my home and the great Potomac River becoming a broad glistening ribbon of ice. Perhaps it is a time of lingering just a little while longer before fully plunging ahead into this New Year.
In this reading about the visit of the wise men from the East there is a richness of history, culture, and tradition. We see that these respected, learned spiritual leaders who come from outside the faith, social, and political traditions of the land are aware of a momentous happening that the local authorities are not.
They come from the East, possibly from what at present times is Iran. They follow the proper channel of consulting with the authorities of the land, not knowing that these powers were not aware. This stirred up considerable consternation, this talk of a King of the Jews, among King Herod and “all of Jerusalem.” King Herod then calls together all the wise, learned men in Jerusalem and they are directed towards the place where Jesus and his mother Mary are.
We don’t know how many of these wise men, Magi as we know them, there were, but our tradition says three since they gave three gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is a symbol of wealth. Frankincense an incense used in religious ceremonies, signifying the spirit, and myrrh a fragrance used for the dead, thus signifying mortality.
King Herod had sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
But then, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
So we see this contrast. King Herod, and all of Jerusalem, are frightened, and at a loss to know what to do. The magi are not merely happy, but are “overwhelmed with joy” at the sight of Mary with her child. They kneel down and pay him homage.
What is it that is so frightening, so disconcerting to the powers of the world, and so joyous, so transformative to those who live out of a depth of spirit? What is behind Herod’s lie when he tells the magi to bring him word, so that he too may go and pay him homage? What is the deep joy of the others?
We know that Herod did not go to pay homage to this child “who has been born to King of the Jews.” If we continue reading this same chapter of Matthew, we see that he was furious that the wise men did not return to inform him about the child. Rather, he coldly calculated, based upon the information provided by the Magi, when the child king would have been born and ordered a cruel massacre of all male children two years or under in Bethlehem and its surroundings. Then his parents fled with the child Jesus to Egypt, perhaps using the gold to finance the journey, just as many refugees today spend their all in their search for safety.
In our present time the world really remains the same. There are those who live out of depth of the spirit of truth, who live for life, for love, and for the building up of wholeness and peace. There are those who live the lie, who, even if they have everything the world provides, are frightened, hateful, unhappy, and are sowers of discord, suffering, and death.
We celebrate here, in the Eighth Day Faith Community, the permanence, the lasting depths of a life in the spirit, the life which overflows from who we are, what we do, who we are with, of what flows into us from all the blessings of each moment of life and each moment living within creation until our lives are permeated by and imbued with pure joy. We kneel down and pay homage to our one true Lord.
A few days ago many of us here present, along with many friends and companions from other times or other places, gathered together in the spirit of light of the New Year at the Dorseys’ house. We shared our hopes, our wishes, and our blessings with one another. I was given a couple notes written by my mother, Carol Fitch (now gone on from this world), with her wishes in years past. One, from 2003, says, “My wish is that we as Christians hold on to hope & God’s promise of peace & wholeness, and a wish for me that I be a person of hope…”
And what an expression of beauty, love, life, wholeness, and hope was the wedding last night of Crisely and Alfonso! Such simplicity, such depth, such joy! There is really something going on in our church with the recent weddings of Chris and Sandra, Emily and Mathias, and now this…
As each one of us, individually, together, and in the broader world, seeks to live out these deeper truths, we also find ourselves resisting the lie. The beauty of this is that the truth is always stronger, and more enduring, even if it doesn’t always triumph at first. For we are a people of the Resurrection.
An embodiment of the lie that I often confront, and thus often am provided with the opportunity to be a witness to the truth, is that we are fundamentally different from each other in this world. Different especially with regard to where we come from, what our social status is, and what our race and culture may be. I believe that most all strife, most all warfare, most all destruction of people, places, and nature, and most all disharmony arises out of this illusion of fundamental differences as opposed to the reality of a fundamental unity.
One way I recently witnessed this false dichotomy was at the School of the Americas Watch vigil/protest gathering at the US-Mexico border at Arizona/Sonora back in November. At one workshop I attended I heard a Tohono O’odham—an indigenous woman lawyer from the border town of Ajo, Arizona, a wildlife biologist, an environmental activist and a teacher working with children on both sides of the border—speak of the enormous harm caused by the activity of the US Border Patrol, and the halting of the natural flow of people and wildlife both ways across the border. I later sat in a discussion between teens and preteens from both sides of the border. I was especially struck by the trauma expressed of young people seeing the Border Patrol rounding up, like animals, human beings fleeing through their neighborhoods.
At another moment we were outside a huge, privately run prison for immigrants out in the middle of the desert. As the night fell, hundreds of us called out, “no estan solos, no estan solos” “you are not alone.” After a time numerous specks of people began to appear in the windows in the distance. They had heard us!
If that monstrosity of a great border wall is ever completed, it will be as an enormous monument to the lie that we are separate. It will also be an enormous waste of money that will not achieve its stated purposes.
Last June and July, I was in Cuba, with my father, just after the United States’ president had announced that the Cuban people had gotten a raw deal and that the new openings of relationship agreed upon between the governments of Barrack Obama and Raul Castro would be revoked. But there, in contrast to other Latin American countries I have been in, or, indeed, to my own country, I saw no hunger and no people living in the streets; everyone had access to free medical care; doctors and other medical personnel spent much time in communities and in homes; schools were everywhere and so many unpretentious people I met were advanced professionals. All over the country people warmed up to me and engaged in open conversations, once they got over the shock that I was from “the land of Trump,” and realized that I was not part of the effort to further punish them and their land. This was another expression of the lie and its flip side, which is that in friendship and a mutual building up of one another lies our strength.
Videlbina and I had living with us in our home Iris and Juan Pablo, who came and shared the last time I gave the teaching here. They were a couple seeking to live and work peacefully, honestly, away from the violence of their land, El Salvador. In this, in the end, they were frustrated, and the US Government forcibly returned them to the uncertainly of life in their native land.
In December I made two new friends, Antonia and Daniel, as I accompanied them most days during their 12-day fast outside the US Capitol in a prayerful, spirit-filled presence pleading for the normalization of status for DACA recipients (people brought to the US by their parents as children). Antonia is a woman of delightful, spirited presence who is the mother of three DACA children, who are now university students and budding young professionals. Daniel is a 24 year-old DACA recipient who more quietly is fighting for himself, his girlfriend, and nearly a million other DACA recipients who face either the threat of deportation to lands they do not know or of being bargaining chips to be exchanged for other draconian immigration measures.
Tomorrow is the deadline for the announcement of a decision about the fate of 250,000 Salvadorans in the US (about a quarter of which live in the DC area) who have temporary legal status. It is largely thought that this status will be ended after over 15 years (as has already happened for Haitians and Nicaraguans benefitting from the same status) and that they will be faced with an uncertain future. About 21,000 a year are already being deported to El Salvador. It would be inhumane to deport 250,000; that would be the approximate equivalent, in terms of relative population, of deporting the entire population of New York City. To deport so many to a country economically in shambles, that depends on the money Salvadorans (and others, like myself) send to family there, and that is now “winning” in the macabre competition with its neighbors Honduras and Guatemala as the most violent country in the Hemisphere would be a tragedy. It would also be a denial of the historical role of the United States in financing and directing the civil war in that land that led to its present state.
At present I am also feeling called to respond to the invitation to go with a faith-based group to share with Padre Melo, a Jesuit priest in Honduras, and civil, women’s and humans rights organizations there who are outspoken in the face of electoral fraud recently perpetrated in Honduras and, as a consequence, are being attacked. This is to take place from January 24th to 30th. I will go, even though we will not be welcomed by some there, there may be difficulties and minor risks, and it will entail new commitments on my part to respond to and make known what I see and learn. But this is the joy of seeking unity, solidarity, and true peace.
So let us kneel down at the side of this infant king, and know this overwhelming joy that flows from our Lord to and through us.