It is a time of rituals and rites of passage for our culture. In this third week of Epiphanytide, when Christians celebrate the manifestation of Christ to all the world, we cast our eye back to the peaceful pastor Martin Luther King who had a dream.
Pastor King’s dream was a Christian dream, in that it was formed from the ideal of the dignity of every living person, regardless of race or class. That each and every one of us was to be treated with respect is a relatively new idea in the history of mankind, an idea taught by a loving God, the God of Abraham.
He was a Jewish God, to be sure, who burned his laws of love onto tablets on a mountain, to teach peace among men. He guided his chosen people through history, through an older testament and into a newer testament, to the birth of his Son in a stable outside Bethlehem. For this was the crucial lesson in personal dignity, in love, teaching that true love demanded humility and was defined by sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Cross.
Other cultures do not share the Judeo-Christian belief in the dignity of man. Indeed, even the West has not always practiced its preaching, but still it preached, and continues to do so, from pulpits with words and soup kitchens with deeds, proclaiming a God of love who commands that we love as He loves, sacrificially. And it is far better to fall short of the ideal than to have no ideal at all.
And so today we honor our past. We honor Dr. King and his peaceful dream of dignity for all. We honor the freedom of speech that gave him the right to speak publicly on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in 1963, calling for an end to racism and the passage of civil rights legislation in Congress.
And in the light of that Epiphany star two thousand years ago that guided the wise men to the humble bed of straw, we look ahead to the great rite of passage, the ritual of change in America, the inauguration of a new president, the ordering of a new government that will rule our people.
This ritual, wisely, still includes an oath sworn on a Bible. Across the land prayers will be said and hymns sung. And be of good cheer, for our new president is a good man. He embodies our ideals of equality, of dignity for all, of liberty protected by law. These ideals have been increasingly eroded in our culture, increasingly attacked under a guise of caring and concern. In this last year, we wanted the wisdom of the wise men to see through such disguises, to see the wolves in sheep’s clothing, to see that desire for power over our daily deeds, words, and goods, posed as caring and concern. Sorting fake news from real news, soundbites from snakebites, we came to see that elites breed elites and protect their own. They do this through power over you and me.
So Americans did see through the shadowy media reports with the light of reason and faith, and a little help from Twitter. We will try now to protect the unprotected a little longer. We can now protect the unborn and the aged, the handicapped and the unschooled, the poor in spirit, in goods, in talent. Our new president sees these things. He sees through the trappings of wealth and power. He understands ideals and recognizes those who yearn for truth and goodness, who watch and listen to the heavens and the angels.
There are those who fear the new government, this new hope and change. They abhor the man elected for he spoke bluntly. They believe the media’s distortions. They see themselves as part of the club, the elite, the well mannered, the bright and the beautiful. But they need not fear this hope and this change. Be of good cheer.
There was a time four years ago when these fearful ones celebrated their victory. There was a time eight years ago when others questioned the nature of a hope that had no object and a change that was undefined. Explanations were vague and propaganda surfed a wave of… hope… in something, somewhere, sometime… a wave of change… from the past to the future to be sure, but change to what? The mantra “Yes, we can!” didn’t explain what it was, exactly, that we could do. There were no answers, only trite pieties, only manipulations of hearts and minds, recalling traveling salesmen and TV evangelists. We were invited, I suppose, in those elections, to fill in the blanks with whatever we hoped for, much as a child did for Santa Claus.
The new president doesn’t speak in vague generalities, pulling on heartstrings, but speaks as one who knows how to move forward, representing all Americans, not just the powerful elites. He will stumble, for he is human, but I honor his courage, his convictions, and his selfless work ethic. He will do his best and we must hope for his best. He will sacrifice for us. He will defend us.
And so in this third week of the new year, we gather together on Friday and watch America form a new government of the people, by the people, for the people. Once again we have swept our house. We have thrown open the windows and looked up to the stars in the bright night sky. Our right to worship, to feed the poor, to teach our children, has been protected a bit longer. We can sing about the child in the manger who will grow in wisdom and stature. We can tell how he rode through the gates of Jerusalem to his death on a cross on a hill they call the place of the skull. We can celebrate his resurrection, ascension, and his gift of his Holy Spirit. We can tell the greatest story ever told, how God loves us, each and every one.
For a time, we are encouraged with this new presidency. For a time, the winds of hope and change will blow through our open windows. “Yes, we can!” we will tell the unborn and the aged. Yes, we can protect you. Yes, we can believe in God and obey his laws with a free conscience. Yes, we can have real hope in these real changes.
Yes, we can realize our dream of hope and change. We can follow that star.