Reflection for Epiphany 2021

Tolkien’s Primordial Dark Forest – Mirkwood

“They walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened.……. The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark – not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch; so black that you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in front of his nose, but he could not see it at all.”  (from The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien).

Here Tolkien explores our fear of the trek through darkness and danger. Even a superficial reading of Matthew and Luke’s Christmas stories shows a journey of difficulty and hardship.  A heavily expectant mum travelling over 90 miles on foot; a terrible accommodation problem; threats, and the need to travel another 200 miles as refugees into a foreign land.

Epiphany doesn’t declare a God who makes everything sweetness and light, but a God who will never fail us as He lovingly guides us through the gloom and perils of our life.

The Old Testament Reading – Isaiah 60.1-4 – The LORD’s Light

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you….”

Paul Plunges into the Darkness and Experiences God’s Light

“In Asia….we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself…”

1 Corinthians 1.8

These are Paul’s words describing the darkness he went through while proclaiming the gospel in Ephesus, in Asia Minor.  This was his Mirkwood.

When Paul chose to enter the great metropolis of Ephesus, he knew what he was letting himself in for.  Below is a picture, reconstructing what the port city of Ephesus would have looked like in about 55AD when Paul was there.

If you study this picture, and take your eyes over to the right-hand corner, you will see the source of Paul’s difficulty – it’s a Temple, the Temple of the goddess Artemis (also called Diana)  In the ancient world, Ephesus had become the focus of her cult.

Proclaiming Jesus here would be interpreted as insult to this religion.

At one point, Paul’s preaching started a riot.  He may even have been imprisoned in Ephesus, and possibly on death row.   Yet, here, he realises that no place, no power, no circumstances, or hopelessness, is so dark that it cannot be penetrated by the love of Jesus. Ephesus was to become a powerhouse of God’s blessing in the whole of Asia Minor!

“Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5.14

Writing later to the Christians in Ephesus, he adapts today’s reading from Isaiah 60 to encourage them to experience the same epiphany that he had in that dark city.

The Village of Constant Light

Deep in its valley, surrounded by high mountains, the Norwegian village of Rjukan and its 3,400 inhabitants are in dark shadow for half the year. During the day, from late September to mid-March, Rjukan, three hours north-west of Oslo, experiences no direct sunshine.

 In 2013, however, the villagers gazed out upon an amazing sight. High on the mountain opposite, 450 metres above the town, three large, solar-powered, computer-controlled mirrors steadily began to track the movement of the sun across the sky, reflecting its rays down on to the village square and bathing it in bright sunlight and warmth – even in the darkest days of winter!

Both Isaiah and Paul rejoice that the Lord is tracking us!  He knows you! His desire and plan is always to break through the darkness that comes upon you.  Let this be our expectation, that Jesus will bathe us in His warmth and love.

Lord, be Thou my vision……Thou my best thought, in the day and the night. Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.