Years ago I spent the winter in Baja California, Mexico. One delight of lingering in these tiny villages was the morning stroll to the bakery (panaderia) to choose the day’s supply of bread and pastries (which, to be honest, aren’t very tasty in Mexico).
One morning, I made the customary stroll, and the place was pandemonium. Half the village was inside picking up a colorful breadlike pastry shaped in a circle. Clearly, families had previously ordered these bread-things and were picking them up for some celebration. It was slim pickings for the gringos at the bakery that morning.
Years later, I learned that it had been the feast of the Epiphany and that people were picking up their Rosca de Reyes (king cake). A tiny figure of the baby Jesus is hidden in the cake, obligating the finder to host the next feast day celebration at Candlemas.
Today is the Epiphany. The 12th Day of Christmas. The celebration of the coming of the Magi (kings, wise men, astrologers–take your pick), who saw a phenomenon in the heavens and divined its significance. Who brought prophetic gifts, but who symbolically gathered the rest of us Gentiles around the cradle of the Jewish God-man.
I love this feast, and I don’t care whether it is literally true or not. For me, the truth lies in the metaphor, and that kind of truth is universal.
For one thing, I like the word “epiphany.” Epiphanies are little miracles in the humdrum–the “aha” of realization when light flashes into a dark corner. That’s why I have an “epiphanies” category for this blog. They happen more often when you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory, literal or figurative.
In fact, this feast is all about the journey. It’s about traveling without knowing where you’re going, exactly. (I don’t know how you follow a star, but I’m sure it isn’t like Mapquest.) It’s about listening to the voices along the way, so that you can identify evil when you see it. It’s about recognizing the destination when you finally get there. And it’s about seeing the radiant truth beneath a homely surface.
And finally, it’s about having the humility to be changed. How many of the rich and powerful that you know would travel halfway around the world to “pay homage” to a child in a tenement?
And then to return home “by another way.” Because once you’ve seen the Christ, you can’t go back the way you came.