(Preached at Melville United Church, Fergus, on January 7, 2018)
This time last year, many of us were very fearful. Donald Trump, who didn’t even think he could ever be elected himself, had just been sworn in as President of the United States of America.
He said he was going to build a multi-billion dollar wall between the United States and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.
He was going to dismantle the Environmental Protection Act, destroying the natural world.
He was going to kick out all the Muslims, and stop non-white, non-Christians from emigrating to the States.
Women’s rights would be set back fifty or even a hundred years.
He’d dismantle the new, fragile system set up by the previous government to provide universal health care.
The world as we know it would end, and all of the scenarios in those dystopian novels would come true.
That is, if he didn’t get impeached right away.
Well, here we are, a year later, and there have been some surprising developments.
Yes, he’s done quite a few things that have been cause for grave concern. He’s moved the world almost to the brink of nuclear war by playing chicken with North Korea. He has, as expected, rolled back some of the more progressive environmental laws and laws protecting the reproductive rights of women—such changes are usual in the United States, and the progressive laws will probably be reinstated by the next Democratic government.
In other ways, things haven’t been quite as bad as predicted. The President does not have the power Trump thinks he has. The courts have declared a blanket ban on travel from certain countries to be unconstitutional, and the attempt to repeal “Obamacare” hasn’t yet succeeded, largely because nothing satisfactory has been proposed to replace it. His attempt to ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military likewise was struck down by the courts.
And there have been some rather surprising developments.
The extreme right in the United States and in Canada, emboldened by Trump’s success, thought their time had come, and they started demonstrating.
In Charlottesville, a rally turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed. In response, a later rally in Boston that drew 50 participants drew tens of thousands of counter-protesters. Further rallies were cancelled or moved on-line.
The Charlottesville and Boston rallies were a wake-up call to the United States. White liberal citizens woke up to what Black citizens had been trying to tell them all along—that despite having elected their first Black president, America is not a beacon of equality, and that there is much more work to do.
Recently, women in the entertainment industry have begun speaking out about deeply-rooted sexism that has resulted in several highly respected men being exposed as abusers of those under their power. While I believe that such deeds would have eventually come to light, the spotlight on Trump’s record with regards to women’s equality likely caused them to be revealed sooner.
In an ironic twist, in many ways, the effects of Trump’s first year in office have often been the exact opposite of those he and his supporters were expecting.
So it was with Herod. The Magi followed the star in the East, but East is only a direction, not a destination. Knowing they searched for a king, they stopped in the most obvious place—the palace.
“Where is this king?” they asked.
The Magi might never have found the infant Jesus if Herod’s scribes hadn’t told them, just as the United States and the world might not have realized that we still have along way to go to reach our goals of “peace on Earth, good will towards all” if the election and the riots and the nuclear posturing hadn’t happened.
Because we were asleep.
North Korea has had its nuclear weapons for a while. Hatred and racism have been endemic in the world for as long as there have been humans of different tribes. Blacks and Muslims in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, Aborigines in Australia, Syrian refugees in Europe, Rohingya people in Myanmar—all these and more face life-threatening and soul-destroying incidences of racism every day.
Women still don’t have the same rights as men, queer people still don’t have the same rights as their straight brothers and sisters, poor people still don’t have the same access to justice and the necessities of life as their rich sisters and brothers.
The election of Trump and the resulting riots and media coverage has been, in many ways, like a light shining in dark places. We see into the shadows where our dark secrets were shoved. We see what’s hiding under the bed, what’s been swept under the rug.
We need to wake up.
We need to wake up to the fact that those who would keep out the refugees and set women’s rights back a century and oppress the poor and demonize those who are different are often Christians even as we are, who use scripture to justify the slaughter of innocents.
We need to wake up to the fact that getting access to effective mental health care is difficult, sometimes impossible, even in a progressive place like Southern Ontario.
We need to wake up to the fact that in Ontario in 2018, almost one in five children still live in poverty, and that despite the recent increase in the minimum wage, we still have no universal day care strategy that will allow the mothers of those children to seek employment.
We need to wake up to the fact that right now, as we worship, there are people out on the streets, trying to keep from freezing, because they have no homes. We need to wake up to the fact that our basic income programs don’t provide enough income so that single adults can pay for even the most basic shelter in our larger centres. We need to wake up to the fact that construction of luxury condominiums and huge single family homes is booming, while construction of affordable rental properties has been non-existent in the last twenty years or so.
We need to wake up to the fact that we are called to do more than just be here on Sunday morning, then exit these doors and ignore the work that God has given us to do.
Get out of bed, Fergus! Wake up! Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness.
But God’s glory rises on you, and all will come to your light. The exiles are returning, those who left the church in those days when it seemed like the church was no longer needed—life was just fine without it. The exiles are returning, those who saw the church as outdated, backwards even.
Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you: men coming from great distances, women carrying their children.
They’re searching for God, they’re searching for hope.
They’re following the star. They’ll come in, asking us where they can find God, that same God born in a manger.
When they do come in, will they find Herod, who will tell them where to find the baby, while secretly plotting to destroy any threat to his power?
Or will they find other magi, other seekers who are ahead of them on the road, and who are ready to lay down their gifts before the newborn king?
Will we welcome them with smiles—big smiles? With open arms, open hearts, open minds? Will we learn from them, take a deep look at our own shadows, and give ourselves up to the light?
Wake up, Fergus! It’s morning!
God’s light is shining, and it’s time to get out of bed and get to work!