January 6, 2021:  Call it Epiphany

picture of crowd gatheredWhat one calls the events that took place in the capital of the nation on January 6, 2021, is a matter of perspective—a viewpoint acquired primarily, I suspect, through the political persuasion of the one giving name to the phenomenon. To some, January 6th was an exercise in Christian Nationalism; to others, it was an act of insurrection.  By providence or coincidence, the day of January 6th arises with great solemnity and also festivity as holiday in the calendar of many Christian churches, for January 6th has long been designated the Feast of Epiphany.

Epiphany, which means literally an “appearance,” celebrates the appearance of the child Jesus in the presence of the three kings who have travelled from afar to arrive at the cradle in his parents’ house in Bethlehem—according to the account composed by the gospel writer Matthew.

One might draw parallels between the journey of the three kings, who followed a star until it came to rest over a house in Bethlehem, and the travels of the sojourners who, following the directives of a television star, were led (though not literally) to the Capitol Building on January 6th.  Some of the visitors claimed that the house they were entering was their house; a similar claim was not advanced by the three kings, who, after paying homage to the one whose star was on the rise, departed from the region unceremoniously.  Matthew’s story suggests that nothing less than an appearance of God is represented here—leading some orthodox churches to refer to the ensuing holy day as “Theophany.”  And with the appearance of so many Christian flags, crosses, bible quotations of all sorts, and hymn singing amidst moments of prayer, it is clearly the case that the God many in the crowd adored was on display and perhaps on call throughout the proceedings.  Whether this epiphanic event itself was an act of God is both a matter of theological speculation and partisan conviction.

But there’s still the fact of Epiphany as a day of destiny according to the Christian calendar and there’s still Matthew’s text.  And in Matthew’s text, the majesties or magicians from distant lands come to the capital city of Jerusalem, where presides King Herod, to inquire after a new king whom they wish to worship.  Herod perceives this transition of power out of his hands and into the hands of another as an enormous threat to the existing order.  Initially he endeavors to convince his kingly colleagues to discover on his behalf the whereabouts of his newborn rival.  But the three kings are suspicious of Herod’s motivations and so they disregard his directive to report back to him.  Still, Herod is not one to surrender power easily.  He chooses chaos over the peaceful transition of power and orders the extermination of hundreds, perhaps thousands, in an effort to preserve his place of privilege.  Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning follow Herod’s executive order to slaughter the innocents; but then again: this is how tyrants rule.

“Epiphany” also carries with it the sense of a sudden shock of insight, a deep awareness about the character of an event, a person, or a society.

And this is also why January 6, 2021, should be called “Epiphany.”