Epiphany on Jan. 6 commemorates the visit of the Magi — astrologers who followed a star looking for the king born in Bethlehem, and to pay him homage. In response to finding this newborn king, the Christ child, they bowed their heads and hearts in reverence, and in the practice of their day, brought their finest gifts suitable for a king. They brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2: 1-12).
The Magi’s visit is a very celebrated tradition in Latin American and Mexican communities and is known as Dia de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day). Last year, for the first time, I celebrated Three Kings Day at the home of a gracious host family in Mexico and participated in the tradition of trying to find an effigy of baby Jesus hidden inside the sweet bread known as Rosca de Reyes (King’s Cake). Anyone who found the hidden baby Jesus would have good fortune throughout the year but was also obligated to host an upcoming party for Candlemas on Feb. 2. No, I did not find the baby Jesus — but the bread was delicious.
For many Christians, the celebration of Epiphany brings the Christmas season to an end. It is time to vacuum up the pine needles from the carpet, return the wreaths and lights to storage and return to the hustle and bustle, the rhythm and cadence of our routine lives.
Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, wrote about the feast of Epiphany in “Now the Work of Christmas Begins”:
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“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
Indeed, it is now that the work of Christmas begins, and we have an opportunity to embody the words of Thurman’s poem, a wonderful vision of how to respond to God’s gift of the Christ Child.
For that first Christmas, the Magi gave their gifts in response to the greater gift in their midst: a gift from the very heart of God, a gift that welcomed everyone, all nations, all people, races and cultures.
Bearing gifts for a king, the Magi found the Christ child in an ordinary home — not a grand palace. A timely reminder that the presence of the Christ child can still be found in common, sometimes messy and ordinary places, and among ordinary people. It is still among ordinary lives that the extraordinary things are birthed, which can make this world a better place. And it is by doing the ordinary things of life graciously as individuals and as a community of faith, that we bring glory to God.
In this new year, may we follow the light of Christ, wherever it leads us, as it illumines our paths to love and serve God and our neighbors.
The Rev. Monica Dawkins-Smith is pastor at Faith United Church of Christ, State College. She can be reached at faithuccpastor@ comcast.net.