Tyranny & the Wise Way Out

A Reflection on the Feast of Epiphany | Matthew 2:1-11

On January 6, 2021, as all eyes were on our nation’s capitol being desecrated by a violent mob, the Church was celebrating the Feast of Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the first manifestation of Christ—his divinity—to the Gentile world as represented by the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2:1-11. 

But this story isn’t just about those  strange yet beloved camel riding characters and their gifts. Their story is intertwined with the story of an insecure, paranoid, narcissistic tyrant orchestrating terror and chaos from his palatial  office. Listen to the familiar story again, this time with your eyes glued on the pathetic sociopath spinning lies and plotting peril in the Christmas story:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

The quiet march of the Kingdom of compassion and the reign of the Prince of Peace always advances under the watchful, scheming eyes of worldly rulers and egotistical regimes. Power-mongering strong men and neurotic control freaks like Herod are often “disturbed” by the daily, or hourly, realization that there will always be things and people outside their control. For this reason, those who appear strongest are often the weakest and most insecure creatures on the planet. They need to be in control—of their circumstances, of other people, of their destiny, of their personal kingdoms big and small—and to the extent that they cannot control everything, they are perpetually disturbed.

On the other hand, a mother on her knees in her prayer closet, a humble and contented stay at home dad, a poor monk in their cell, a happy go lucky car salesman, and carefree children who let their parents do the worrying for them, these can be some of the most serene people on earth. Their serenity is their strength, their humility is their power, and it allows them to sleep peacefully each night knowing they are not in control and don’t need to be in control.

Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the world lies awake in the West Wing all night, restlessly tweeting to protect his frail ego’s crumbling kingdom, and dreading that one day his advisors and admirers alike will abandon him—opening up again that unhealed father wound. 

4 When Herod had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Lies, lies, damnable lies. How sick and twisted does a soul need to be in order to tell others you desire to worship that which you really plan to destroy and eliminate at all costs? The one thing this deluded sociopathic dictator cannot bring himself to do is bow down and relinquish his power to another. His entire self-worth and sense of purpose is totally bound up in his being King, and that, my friends, is the definition of idolatry gone amuck. Since his own power and position is seated on the throne, he must eliminate anything that would threaten to remove him from that place. Read between the lines, friends, and Herod is really saying, “As soon as you find the newborn threat to my existence, report to me, so that I too may go and kill him.” 

But this is not just a story about a desperate tyrant threatened (humorously) by a small child in a nearby town. We continue:

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

It’s a story of divine revelation and wisdom available to those with ears to hear and hearts to receive. It’s an invitation to get down off our thrones and bow down humbly before someone greater. The wise men invite us to open our clenched fists that are always grabbing or clinging to control, and to become those who give our gifts—gifts of our time and our talents, our control and our power—over to King Jesus. 

January 6, 2021 was an epiphany on two levels. On the human level Webster’s defines an epiphany as “a revealing scene or moment.” The scene that unfolded in broad daylight at the capitol revealed the dangerous consequences of the President sowing disinformation and calling the legitimacy of the election into question. Nero strummed his lyre in his palace while Rome burned to the ground, and our Caligula-in-Chief sat comfortably behind his desk on Wednesday, trying to strum his precious Twitter account (to no avail), while legislators barricaded themselves behind locked doors.

Herods come in all sizes and packages, in every day and age; but all can be recognized by their fragile little egos so easily threatened and so hard to assuage. In the words of Republican senator Mitt Romney immediately following the Herod-incited mob invasion: “We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning.”

A selfish man’s injured pride cost the lives of the innocent children of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and it cost the lives of at least 4 Wednesday. And it could have been much, much worse! Herod lied and schemed to keep his power, and Trump is doing the same. This is the first epiphany of last Wednesday. 

The second epiphany is the same Epiphany that’s been available to open hearts since the wise men bowed before Christ so long ago. This epiphany awakens us to the spirit of Herod hiding in each of our hearts, and enables us to run in the opposite direction of all that Herod stood and still stands for. Listen to how the wise respond to this divine realization:

12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, the wise men returned to their country by another route.

It always takes divine revelation or dreamlike “aha” moment to find this “other route” into God’s country. Those enlightened by the Wisdom from above are determined to never “go back to Herod” and his ways. Wise men and women know there is another route we can take through life that runs in the opposite direction of Herod and all those who insist on worshiping at the temple of their own need for power and control.

There were people in the mob at the Capitol with Christian signs, flags, and crosses. In the name of the Prince of Peace, they stood by those perpetrating violence and carried along by the hateful spirit of Herod. They are sincere but deluded, claiming Jesus as savior but still living in Herod’s kingdom and by Herod’s rules. There was another mob long ago that was singing Jesus’ praises one moment, but the next was crying, “Crucify him!” when they realized he was no longer going to further their violent agenda. Eerily similar to the fate of another leader who was one day an loyal accomplice, and the next was hearing, “Hang him!” These are the politics and personal character of Herod.

Let us pray that by God’s grace they will someday have their own epiphany, launch a Coup agains the tyranny of Self, and follow the Wise Men down the Wise Way to a Jesus-shaped life, and all the way into God’s eternal country. 

Happy Epiphany! May the star of Christ rise in your hearts today and shine brighter than ever before in your life this New Year! And may we forever resist going back to Herod and his Ways.

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