By Seth Kaper-Dale
January 10, 2018
The season of Epiphany is upon us. In churches coming out of the Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions, this day is about God being made manifest to the gentiles.
The focal story of Epiphany is the story of the arrival of the Magi (star-gazers from the East (“from the Moab”), who travel to Judah because they see some sort of a star configuration that suggested a royal birth.
There is a lot about this story that I love. Firstly, astrology was scoffed at in the Hebrew scriptures (Isaiah 47:13) and maybe even outlawed (depending on how you understand the term “divination” (Leviticus 19:26). And yet, here, God uses star-gazing to guide foreign Magi to Bethlehem.
Secondly, nobody else sees the star. Mary and Joseph don’t see it. The shepherds in the fields don’t see it. Herod doesn’t see it. Nobody sees it.
In our Sunday School Christmas Pageant in Highland Park, everybody can see the star. The star is a kid wrapped in the bright golden glittery costume, but on that first Christmas, nope. It was a sign only for Magi.
But the Magi, those foreign guests, made manifest something else when the constellations pointed them toward Judah. They made manifest the insecurity of King Herod. God’s sign to them led to an epiphany where all the people of Judah could see just how unstable and unhinged was their king.
They came into Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he that was born King of the Jews?’ They naively thought the constellations were pointing toward a birth within the royal line. Oops!
Herod immediately sensed a coup. Herod was smart, though. He collected himself and told the Magi, “Go and find this child and let me know where he is, so that I can worship him also.”
Before the Magi even left the gates of the palace, Herod was calling for his advisers, calling for the FBI, preparing the army.
In 2017, there are Magi around the world who see signs of immaculate conceptions of resistance in America. They can see the birth of Americans who admit the failure of disaster-capitalism and who cannot tolerate structural racism, classism and sexism anymore.
The Magi see these births, but wisely they are not bringing presents and tipping off Herod to the manger locations. The Magi today try not to prod Herod because he’s got his hands on that big nuclear trigger, on trade policy, the military, the climate.
The first Herod killed all baby boys under the age of 2 to make sure he got the chosen one, baby Jesus. Oops, Herod, you missed. Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Our Herod doesn’t pull the trigger on babies, but he has no trouble deporting their parents, underfunding schools, taking away food stamps from our most vulnerable babies.
These are the actions of one who doesn’t know the strength of the baby who has been born to topple the might from their thrones and to send the rich away empty (so sang Mary in the Magnificat). Oops, Herod, you will miss again!
Seth Kaper-Dale has been co-pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park (www.rchighlandpark.org) for 16 years with his wife, Stephanie. As an outgrowth of the ministry, Kaper-Dale directs a housing corporation, community development corporation, refugee resettlement agency and numerous other efforts to effect real change in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Reformed Church of Highland Park held a meeting on Thursday to unveil its program Deportation and Immigration Response Team, D.I.R.E., which is an effort to help immigrants who may be targeted by Trump administration directives. Nick Muscavage/Staff Video