01/05/2011 04:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Epiphany: Light in the Darkness

Our Christmas tree sits chopped in half, shorn of lights, angels and sparkle, waiting on the curb to be picked up by the trash collector and trucked off to our community's compost heap. Carlos, the trash collector, told me that the pickup day is El Dia de los Tres Reyes, the Day of the Three Kings, Jan. 6.

Chopping up the Christmas tree seems an inappropriate way to prepare for Jan. 6, which is also known as Epiphany on the Christian calendar of festival days. As another of the festivals of light that mark northern calendars at this time of year, the day would call for at least the lighting of a candle or two. It's a story, after all, about seeing light in the darkness.

The ancient story about the Magi following their star to pay homage to the newborn baby in Bethlehem has kindled imaginations for centuries, causing poets and painters and songwriters and scholars to embroider the story with layers of intrigue, mystery and meaning.

Some ruminate about the national identities of the Magi, some focus on the meaning of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Others remind us that within Matthew's story we can hear the echo of the Moses story and see that Herod plays the Pharaoh to this new endangered baby. We can see the machinations of Herod's power play as he seeks to find the newborn one that threatens his toe-hold in the hierarchy of Empire.

It's been said that this is a story for dreamers, a story that asks us to listen with our hearts more than our heads if we really want to get at the truths contained within the words and reflected in our world.

So to prepare for this festival for dreamers, I'm imagining those travelers who dared the darkness for the light of a star, and thinking of those other dreamers who have looked into the darkness, glimpsed the light and followed a star:

Moses, of course, facing into the darkness of Pharaoh's empire and leading his people out of bondage to a promised land.

Or Copernicus, facing into the darkness of ignorance -- and church authority -- and declaring that our own star, our sun, holds the light at the center of our universe.

Or Galileo, who followed Copernicus' light, dreamed a new vision of the universe and suffered the darkness of the Inquisition.

And one who had a dream in our day, Martin Luther King Jr., who lit a way forward through the darkness of American racism.

And I think this January of the young immigrants, brought to this country as small children, who still dream of a path to citizenship, and are willing to work for that citizenship with military service or education. I think of their dreams dashed by the Senate's denial of the DREAM Act.

I think of Carlos, the guy who picks up my trash, and what he told me that his young son said upon the election of Barack Obama: "Dad, this means that I can be president, too."

So, on this festival for dreamers, I'm lighting a candle in our darkness for Carlos' son, and all the other brave young dreamers who dare to follow a new star, to imagine a new world.