“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
Every year, January 6 is the first day after the 12 days of Christmas. You may know it better as the day of Epiphany, which marks the account in the Gospel of Matthew when “wise men from the east” followed a star to the Christ child in Bethlehem. We often think there were three wise men or magi, but that’s only because they brought three gifts. We really don’t know how many there were, and we have no idea if they were kings. What we do know is this: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). After a journey as long as theirs must have been, we can only imagine the thrill of finally reaching the destination.
But can we imagine how astonishing it must have been to discover that the “king” they sought came from the unlikeliest of beginnings? Perhaps that’s the greatest joy, to discover the glory of God rising before us in the most unlikely of places.
That’s a lot of what Epiphany is all about. It’s also about light shining in the midst of darkness. That’s what makes it a good thing to celebrate at the beginning of a new year. Whatever darkness has overshadowed your life—loneliness, grief, illness, fear, to name just a few—you now arise to the light found in the twinkling eye of the Christ child, whose love shines like a star in our lives.
As much as Christmas has grown into our biggest national holiday, in many Spanish-speaking and Latin American cultures the bigger holiday is Epiphany, often known as “Three Kings Day” (Día de Los Reyes). Often it is celebrated with many gifts (which children receive not from Santa but from the three kings), a large family meal, and Rosca de Reyes (“king’s cake”), a sweet bread cake shaped in an oval to symbolize a crown.
“And nations shall come to your light… Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together,” Isaiah foretold (60:3-4). Día de Los Reyes reminds us that the star of the Christ child shines in many languages and cultures. If we lift up our eyes, we will see the light shimmering through them all.