Nine Miles from Bethlehem

Epiphany
Isaiah 60
Micah 5:2-4
Matthew 2:1-12

Sunday is Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. On that day we won’t sing: “Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping,” but songs about magi from the East bringing gifts to Jesus. Although no manger scene would be complete without these exotic strangers from afar, Matthew says that they showed up some time after the birth of Jesus, and found Joseph’s little family in a house at Bethlehem. Read more

The Power of Fear

Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

On Monday of this week, a grand jury in Ohio declared that the police officers who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice while he played with a pellet gun in a Cleveland park and then left him unattended on the ground for four minutes before administering comfort or assistance would not be indicted on any charges related to his death. The officers said the boy looked like he was 20. They said they told him to stand down. He was a large black boy in a park and they were afraid. People do stupid and sometimes horrible things when they are afraid.

As a country we’re being told that we should be afraid of a lot of things lately: immigrants, Muslims, crazy men with guns, black men (with or without guns), ISIS, the jobs report, tap water. We’re told that there are forces afoot in this world, embodied in these and many other things, which threaten our way of life. We’re told that if we do not eliminate these threats, bad things will happen. We’re told to hold nothing back, however immoral or inhumane, to keep ourselves and our way of life safe: border controls, internment camps, religious tests, militarized policing, racially skewed drug laws, carpet bombing, suppression of unions, bottled water.

Fear maintains order. Collateral damage is to be expected. When those in power fear that they are losing hold on that power, ramping up the fear of the general populace is a surefire way to secure and maintain power.

Exhibit A: Herod the Great. Read more

Nativity Politics

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Lectionary for Mass

Welcome home, my child.
Your home is a checkpoint now.
Your home is a border town.
Welcome to the brawl.

“Song of the Magi,” Anaïs Mitchell

They are as familiar as any in the cast of characters that make up the mash-up we know as the Christmas Story.

The “wise men from the East” in Matthew’s gospel join the shepherds and angels found only in Luke to populate children’s Christmas pageants everywhere. With tinfoil crowns on their heads and festive tablecloths draped over their tiny shoulders, solemn preschoolers reverently place wrapping-paper-clad boxes at the feet of makeshift mangers. Parents and grandparents sigh and chuckle. Video and still shots are posted to Facebook before “Silent Night” has been sung and happy applause has been rendered.

Christians high-church and low have ritualized these stories (even as they have conflated them) in this very recognizable and much-beloved form. And why not teach children (and others) in such ways—through embodiment, performance, spectacle?

But for those who may be weary of the inevitable kitsch of this rite of passage, and perhaps especially for those who wonder if the whole nativity narrative isn’t just another fairy tale, it’s worth noting how the story of the wise men in Matthew (and also of the shepherds and angels in Luke) is rooted not in cuddly cuteness but in the politics of domination and costly resistance to it. Read more