In the dark days of Advent, we wonder when the birth pangs will end: Will light break into the darkest corners of our hearts, our families, our lives? Will God—can God—take the twisted sinew of our warped world and redeem it? Will we—can we—hold on through the night? Can we trust that light to come? These are the questions of Advent.
As we enter the season of Epiphany, new questions arise: Will we allow the light that has broken forth to illuminate the darkest corners of hearts, our families, and our lives? Can we—will we—follow Jesus as he untwists the mangled metal of our shattered souls ... and redeems it? Can we—will we—trust the light or will we hide from it? These are the questions of Epiphany.
The light of Epiphany illuminates in two directions: It flashes inward, revealing our twisted and fragmented souls, and it flashes outward, revealing the carnage and consequences of the lies our world has embraced and used to craft public policy, the lies we have believed and reinforced through our complicit acceptance, and the truth we must speak.
As we enter 2013, we look back and see that over the past four years much public good was done. Remember: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act made it easier for women to fight pay discrimination. Remember the drama when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court upheld it, creating a path for tens of millions of Americans to finally receive health care. Remember the image of the last troops leaving Iraq.
We are also painfully aware that the past four years marked an era of more-entrenched partisanship than our nation had seen since the Civil War. Remember the legislators who walked through jeering crowds, like the Little Rock Nine, the night they passed the Affordable Care Act—and the spit that landed on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Remember the Census poverty numbers, the record 49.1 million people living at or below the poverty line in 2010. Remember the escalation of drone attacks that resulted in numerous civilian deaths. Remember the promise to take action on comprehensive immigration reform and the failure to pass the Dream Act. Remember the House budget that proposed that two-thirds of the cuts to balance the budget would come from services that protect poor and working people, and the debt ceiling debacle of 2011. Remember.
Some might say the last four years have been one long season of Advent in American political life; a season of darkness and birth pangs mixed with hope and promise. If so, then perhaps, as we look forward to the next four years, just maybe we can hope for the seeds of Epiphany to sprout up, take root, and grow in our public square.
God has already sown epiphanies throughout our nation's story. These seeds of revelation birthed movements. These movements brought forth redemption.
Consider the lies uncovered by Charles Finney, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Consider the seeds of Epiphany sown by the actions of Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Burns, and Alice Paul. Consider the ways that the saints of the civil rights movement spoke biblical truth to the lie of their times. Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Ed King, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King Jr. rallied a chorus of thousands that defied the lie of their time: that some people were born to be slaves and others were born to be masters. They stood square-footed in the face of that lie, and they sang; "Oh freedom! Oh freedom, over me! And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free." In other words, I am a child of God.
We will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday, Jan. 6. Inauguration day, another kind of epiphany, is Monday, Jan. 21. Throughout the month of January, let us pray that the seeds of Epiphany spring up in our public square over the coming years. And may God cause us to cry out to those mountains of injustice, "Oh freedom!"
Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing at Sojourners.
Image: Rising sun in the forest, Paul Aniszewski  / Shutterstock.com