Reading Time: 6 mins

Epiphany with the Inklings

Reading Time: 6 mins

The further up and further into the season of Epiphany we get, the bigger the grace of God in Christ is, the brighter the Light of Christ shines, and the more blessed we are in Jesus' epiphany for us.

The season of Epiphany is like Mary Poppins' handbag, Hermione Granger's backpack, the TARDIS in Dr. Who, or the stable at the end of the world in Narnia's seventh book, The Last Battle. In other words, Epiphany is bigger on the inside. The gifts God unwraps, unfolds, and reveals for us in the person and work of Jesus fill the season of Epiphany with an ever-increasing, and never-ending Light, the Light of Christ.

In the Northern Hemisphere, especially where I live in Western Washington, December is a long and dark month. Yet it does not stay dark for long. The calendar turns from December to January, and with that turn, the light grows bigger and bigger; each day, a few more minutes of daylight are noticeable on my walk home to the parsonage. The seasons of God's creation echo the rhythm of God's own redeeming work in Jesus. "Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy."

As the Church moves from celebrating Jesus' birth and incarnation at Christmas to rejoicing in Christ's epiphany for us, the growing daylight reminds us of the growing revelation of the person and work of Jesus throughout the season of Epiphany. In Epiphany, Christ the Light of the world has dawned. Christ the King has landed. And he has come to deliver you out of darkness into his marvelous light. "Arise, shine, your light has come, Isaiah declares. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light." 

As the Church moves from celebrating Jesus' birth and incarnation at Christmas to rejoicing in Christ's epiphany for us, the growing daylight reminds us of the growing revelation of the person and work of Jesus throughout the season of Epiphany.

The light of Christ grows bigger and bigger throughout the season of Epiphany. C.S. Lewis illustrates this beautifully in the Chronicles of Narnia. When Aslan finally appears to Lucy Pevensie after his long-expected arrival in Prince Caspian, she is overwhelmed: 

"Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. "At last." 

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell. Half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all around her. She gazed up into the large wise face. 

"Welcome, child," he said. 

"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger." 

"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.

"Not because you are?"

"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger." [1] 

So it is with the season of Epiphany. Christ's light and life grow bigger and bigger with each passing chapter of the Gospels. As each Sunday moves us deeper into the season of Epiphany, the light of Christ's salvation for us grows. Christ's forgiveness and grace is always bigger than even our largest sins, and every year we grow, we will find his mercy bigger than before. 

This season of Epiphany grows in brilliance, like the morning sunrise in the east. Epiphany begins with the magi, the light of the star, and the Christ child in Bethlehem who is God of God, Light of Light, and also true man born in the darkness to deliver us from the shadow of death. And so, from Bethlehem, down to Egypt, back to Nazareth, and then in the Jordan and throughout Judea and Galilee, Jesus' epiphany continually reveals that Jesus is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.

With great glory and radiance, Epiphany crescendos in Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain top. Jesus' transfiguration marks the end of Epiphany and turns us towards the beginning of the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. We journey with Jesus and his disciples down the mountain. Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, the clouds of thick darkness on Good Friday, and the triumphant light of his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

In Book Three of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas have their own epiphany as they walk through Fangorn Forest. Their companion and guide, Gandalf the Grey, reappears after his battle with the Balrog of Moria as Gandalf the White. As you read Tolkien's depiction of this scene, it's hard not to think of Jesus' resurrection and transfiguration in the background: 

"They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.

Gandalf! Aragorn said. Beyond all hope you return to us in our need!

Yes, you may still call me Gandalf…Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned." [2]

The growing light of Christ's salvation during Epiphany also means revelation. As Simeon said to Mary at the temple in Luke 2:29-32:

"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."

A light for revelation to the Gentiles. The nations. For God loved the world in this manner, that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him would have eternal life. The revelation of Christ's salvation comes to Israel and to the nations. We saw this first with the visit of the magi, but we also see it throughout Jesus' ministry in Galilee, among the Gentiles. Epiphany reveals that the Savior born in Bethlehem was born to save the world. Jesus was born to save you. That is why the season of Epiphany, then, also brings with it an evangelistic character. Indeed, this is what we see throughout the four Gospels and into the Acts of the Apostles: the Light of Christ's salvation shines with the brightness of good news for undeserving sinners. The Light of Christ dawns on the darkness of fallen man as well. Christ calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. 

This was true for several of the members of the Inklings as well. C.S. Lewis is probably the most well-known convert among the Inklings of Oxford. But he was not alone in his journey to faith. His own brother, and Inklings regular, Warren (or Warnie as he affectionately called him), was also a convert to Christianity. God gave Lewis good friends over the years, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, who, as Lewis wrote, "Were the immediate human causes of my own conversion." [3]

One particular conversation, or rather a series of ongoing conversations over the course of several days, gave Lewis an epiphany of the gospel that led to his conversion to the Christian faith. On Saturday, September 19th, and into the wee hours of the following morning, Tolkien and Dyson talked with Lewis about myth and truth, story and history, Christianity, and the true story of Christ's redemption that satisfied our greatest longings precisely because it really happened. And on a human level, he had Dyson and Tolkien to thank for this. Dyson and Tolkien were good friends, apologists, storytellers, writers, and so much more; yet on that particular evening and morning along Addison's walk, Dyson and Tolkien were also epiphany evangelists for their friend Lewis.

Lewis writes about his epiphany this way in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves:

"Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a pagan story, I didn't mind it at all…I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels…Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened." [4] 

For Lewis and Tolkien, myth was not a word they used as a synonym for something false or a lie breathed through silver, as Lewis once wrote. Rather, myth was a story that was a vehicle for truth. When Lewis says that Christianity is the true myth, he is not saying it is a made-up legend like the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy. Rather, he is telling us that Christianity is the true myth, that is the true story because it really happened. It is not man-made; it is made by God in history and written in his holy word. Unlike man-made myths, God's word is not a mere vehicle for truth; God's word is truth. Jesus is as he said, the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus' epiphany, along with his birth, life, death, and resurrection, are not another tall tale of man carved upon a cave wall, but the great light of his salvation which dawned in a real place at a real-time in real human history. 

You see, the light of Christ grows bigger and bigger throughout the season of Epiphany. And the further up and further into the season of Epiphany we get, the bigger the grace of God in Christ is, the brighter the Light of Christ shines, and the more blessed we are in Jesus' epiphany for us.

[1] C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. New York: Harper Trophy, 1951, p. 141.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994, p. 484.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters vol. 2. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2004, p. 501.

[4] C.S. Lewis, They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. 1979, p. 427.