I grew up in a faith tradition that—with the exception of major holidays like Christmas and Easter—didn’t follow the Christian liturgical calendar. So, shortly after I began attending Community of Christ regularly (and, given the circumstances, virtually) in 2020, I decided I was going to learn more all of the seasons and holidays that I wasn’t familiar with. A few months earlier, I’d heard an interview with the Swiss abbot Urban Federer on the Babel podcast by Radio Télévision Suisse. During the interview, Federer talked about a book of his that had recently been translated into French from his native German: Sources of friendship with God [Aux sources de l’amitié de Dieu]. I honestly don’t remember much about the interview, but it stood out to me enough for me to write down the title of the book—perhaps because I knew that its chapters followed the liturgical calendar. So, that summer, I ordered that book (and two others) from a French bookseller, and when November 2020 rolled around, I began using it as a guide to my first liturgical year.
This is how it came to be that my first Epiphany was on 6 January 2021, the same day as the storming of the U.S. Capitol by partisans of Donald Trump. I saw my first headlines during a research meeting with Catharyn Shelton, Matt Koehler, and Jeff Carpenter; we were working on a manuscript that turned into this paper. As the meeting was ending, I told my friends that they ought to check the news, because things seemed like they were getting pretty bad. Things were, of course, worse than I could have told from the headlines I was skimming during a meeting—and even worse than I tend to remember these days because there are shameful numbers of bad actors in the U.S. actively downplaying just how bad things were, trying to get us to forget.
As I continued to read about the storming of the Capitol, I was struck by how relevant it seemed to Federer’s chapter on the Epiphany, which I had read earlier that day. He begins his chapter by introducing “a particular fear: the fear of losing” [une peur particulière : la peur d’être perdant]; one could conceivably also translate this as “the fear of being a loser”—it’s more of a stretch, but given Trump’s own fondness for the word when applied to others, I think it’s justifiable here. Federer describes this fear as applying to Herod (who felt threatened by rumors of a newborn king) and Saul (who felt threatened by David. Describing both, Federer has this to say:
Were Kings Herod and Saul right to surrender to jealousy, pushed by their fear? Couldn’t this fear have given them instead the opportunity to live out their gifts and talents in a new way? Both preferred jealousy, which pushed them toward murderous hatred
[Les roi Hérode et Saül ont-ils eu raison de se livrer à la jalousie, poussés par leur peur ? Celle-ci ne pouvait-elle pas, au contraire, leur offrir une chance de vivre leurs propres dons et talents de manière nouvelle ? Tous deux ont préféré la jalousie, laquelle les a pousés à la haine meurtière.]
Federer also comments that it is those who have (power, riches, etc.) who manifest this particular kind of fear, and warns that fear, while a natural emotion, must not push us toward seeking out scapegoats for our problems. It couldn’t have been better prepared for the Epiphany that I first read it if Federer had tried.
I’m not going to say that the storming of the Capitol has ruined Epiphany for me, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think of one without thinking of the other. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Just last Sunday, I argued (implicitly, and in much less detail than I’d have liked) that the Massacre of the Innocents ought to remind us that although we celebrate God’s deliverance at Christmas, the coming of Christmas does not mean that God’s deliverance has come into the world. The fear of losing and the pettiness of power are major obstacles to that deliverance, so maybe the twelfth day of Christmas is a good day to remind ourselves to challenge them.
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