by Ken Sehested
By now you may have noticed the odd coincidence of 6 January  being the date of Epiphany and of Congress’ ritual of announcing the results of the Electoral College’s presidential election tally.
The latter is usually perfunctory, pro forma, pomp and ceremony. Not this time, given Republican representatives’ and senators’ announced intention to challenge the states’ votes. (Strange how a party committed to states’ rights could so easily shed that principle.)
People of faith, however, know that the Spirit is renowned for taking apparent coincidences and remodeling them for providential purpose.
Tomorrow is a dangerous day in the life of our republic. An extraordinary alarm has been sounded in the form of a letter signed by all 10 of the living former secretaries of defense, warning our president against using the military to maintain political power. Two different groups of corporate executives have warned Congress against attempting to change Electoral College votes.
Epiphany’s exposé is also vexing, though of a different sort.
Below is some commentary on the expansive meaning of Epiphany and its relevance for reading the signs of the times.
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Epiphany: Manifesting the Bias of Heaven
There are three versions of what Epiphany (“Manifestation”) is meant to commemorate in the church’s calendar.
One of those traditions is to celebrate Jesus’ baptism on January 6.
Another tradition links Epiphany with the birth of Jesus. (The 7 January date begins at sundown on the 6th.)
Yet another tradition celebrates Epiphany as marking the arrival of the magi, of “We Three Kings” fame—the figures played in every Christmas play by children dressed in bathrobes.
Yet the common element in each is the inauguration of a confrontation between God’s Only Begotten and those in seats of power.
As a baptismal occasion, this Manifestation inspired Jesus’ first sermon in the temple at Nazareth. The gathered crowd was so perturbed at his message of deliverance that the text says they “were filled with wrath” and attempted to launch him headlong over a cliff.
As a birth announcement, this Manifestation so infuriated the reigning regime that the “rules of military engagement” were expanded to include the execution of all male infants in the region around Bethlehem. And the First Family was forced to flee as refugees into Egypt, seeking political asylum from Herod’s rage.
As an announcement of international import, this Manifestation threatened to implicate even visiting foreign dignitaries in the web of political intrigue, and they were smuggled out of town, on back roads, “by another way.”
In each reading of the narrative, the message is clear: The Manifestation of God’s Intent will disrupt the world as we know it. Those for whom this “world” is “home”—who profit from current arrangements, from orthodoxies of every sort—will take offense at this swaddling-wrapped revolt.
The bias of heaven is clear: The goodness of this news is evident only to “children,” to the defenseless ones, to the ones facing life on the road without provision, to the excluded and all judged unclean and unworthy.
Biblically speaking, when you talk about heaven you’re liable to raise hell. That is the evangelical announcement. Everything else is mostly sentimental drivel, designed to calm the powerful and control the weak.
But blessed are you poor, you mournful, you meek and merciful, you restorers of right-relatedness; blessed are you who are persecuted and accused in the cause of peace; for yours is the future, the riches of redemption, the solace of salvation, the bounty of the earth in all its goodness.
God will arise, says the prophet Isaiah (33), at the sound of suffering—of weeping from the envoys of peace, of mourning from the land itself. And so shall we.
Therefore, I say, rejoice.
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