January 6 is the twelfth day of Christmas and the feast of Epiphany, when we commemorate the visitation of the Magi, who represent the first-fruits of the nations bending the knee to Christ. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the nations. Leo the Great, a pastor in Rome in the fifth century, once said in the opening words of an Epiphany sermon: “We have just celebrated the day when the virgin brought forth a Saviour for the human race. Now, dearly beloved, this feast of Epiphany prolongs our joy . . . the intensity of our joy and the ardour of our faith are not allowed to grow cold.” (Sermon 31.1, preached on January 6, 441) The joy of Christmas is prolonged, because the good news of great joy announced by angels was not simply for the shepherds. It’s good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10), including the Magi who lived in faraway lands. They were led by a star, westward leading, guiding them to the perfect Light. Matthew tells us that “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” and when they entered the house and saw the child with his mother “they fell down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:10, 11b).
Their journey and their worship was announced by the prophet Isaiah, who looked forward to the day when the nations would be drawn to manifestation of God’s glory:
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising . . .
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:1-3, 19b)
In this dark and frigid month of January, our joy is prolonged and the intensity of our joy and the ardour of our faith are not allowed to grow cold, “for the glory of the Lord has risen upon us” and “the Lord will be our everlasting light, and our God will be our glory.” Leo concludes another Epiphany sermon with a call to stoke “the glow of a holy life,” for in doing so, we become “just as the star, pointing out for many the way of the Lord” (Sermon 33B.5.2, preached on January 6, 443). At the beginning of this New Year, let us “arise, shine, for our light has come.” Let us stoke the intensity of our joy and the ardour of our faith, and may the glow of our holy life serve as a natal star, leading others to come and worship Christ, the newborn king.