Machetes, guns and the hidden message of Epiphany

January 8th, 2020

When a machete-bearing assailant broke into a private Hasidic home to “get” the Jews who were celebrating Chanukah there, his move was both horrific and ironic. That the safety and merriment of a home could be violated by such hate is unthinkable. That it happened at Chanukah is incongruous. Chanukah is at its core a holiday of religious freedom whose eight nights of light commemorate Jews’ ability to worship God in their own way — free and unfettered. This terrorist served to heighten the awareness of our need for Chanukah.

In the Jewish pantheon of holidays, the Festival of Lights is relatively minor. Yet it has taken on even greater importance in a Christmas-centric culture. In light of this year’s increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents, it is sure to take on even greater significance.

When an armed assailant drew a gun at West Freeway Church and shot down two people on the Sunday after Christmas, his move was also horrific and ironic. That the safety of sacred worship might be interrupted by gunfire is reprehensible. That it took place directly after Communion is absurd. His violence reinforced our need of the Gospel, of the Kingdom.

Both acts of violence meant to snuff out something: a sense of belonging, safety, connection. Undoubtedly, lives are forever shattered. At the same time, something equally sacred, equally unshakable, is also taking hold.

Instead of highlighting the “otherness” of the victims, these horrific acts reinforced a further irony: the inhumanity of the perpetrators. Their destructive, life-denying actions do not mirror who we strive to be.

The forces of darkness these men harnessed are the very ones that Advent laments and which Epiphany fully addresses. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (the latest Star Wars movie — which I swore I wouldn’t see but am ever so glad I did) shows the value of focused and intentional resistance to the forces of darkness. Victory comes not from matching outrage with outrage, but by matching the calculated and cunning desire for power with a focused insistence on using The Force and its light. The Rise of Skywalker showed that even the strongest proponents of light have seeds of darkness within them, and even the strongest proponents of evil can break free of its grip.

This Epiphany, we celebrate the Incarnation. This ancient holiday celebrates that even in the midst of machetes, guns and hate — God breaks through into our human experience. All that is good and holy and divine are borne in the life, body and witness of Jesus of Nazareth.

This year, Epiphany has a deeper, more surprising message for us. Just as God breaks through into human experience through Jesus, so too through us. Made in the image of God, called to be Christ-like in every way, we too are designed to bear both humanity and divinity. To have a body is to have a soul. To have a soul is to bear the incarnation of God, to be a hidden slice of the divine.

In the face of increasing public violence, and the inhumanity it reveals, it’s common to respond with either seething outrage or frozen immobilization. I get it. I have felt both. I’m just not sure either of those ways moves us sustainably toward the kingdom.

But there is a third way. It comes by tapping into the promise of Epiphany. Together with Jesus, following his lead and direction, we can tap into our inner divinity. We can dare to co-create miracles with God. We can transform seething outrage into focused action and let frozen immobilization melt into collaboration and community.

I invite you to bring your Epiphany dreams for a new decade to our January course: DARE to Dream Like Jesus. Let your dreams take hold as you explore your authority, your agency and your ability to bring the impossible to life.

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