The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
It was 1974 and I was working for Mobil Oil Corporation in New York City. I had just been given a breath-taking assignment … I was to fly to an oil production site in North Sumatra, Indonesia, for a proposed computerization project. It was almost exactly half way around the world from New York and our travel agent recommended that I take the Pan American World Airways around-the-world flight! One benefit of this plan was that it allowed me unlimited stopovers, so I booked my first stop in Tel Aviv and spent the weekend in Jerusalem.
I had visited Jerusalem the previous year with a study group from our church, but this was my first time alone. I decided to explore the Siloam Tunnel – also known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel – a narrow water channel carved in bedrock within the City of David in ancient times. The tunnel (583 yards long) leads from the Gihon Spring to the pool of Siloam to provide a protected water source in times of conflict. At the entrance I was offered the services of a guide with a choice of a battery light or a much less expensive candle-lit lantern – unwisely I chose the latter. We started in knee-deep water and headed into the unknown. Because of recent rains, there was more water than usual and before long we were waist deep. I also noticed that the tunnel ceiling was getting lower, and when I questioned the guide, I discovered that he spoke only Hebrew. As we waded on, with the water getting deeper and the ceiling getting lower, disaster struck – an unexpected draught extinguished the guide’s candle-lit lantern. We were now standing in total darkness, chest high in water, with my head brushing the ceiling.
I had been praying throughout my adventure, but my prayers now had much greater intensity. I had my hand on the shoulder of my guide and encouraged him to keep moving forward. After a few more minutes we were both delighted to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel! I had begun to imagine that I would end my days in a watery tomb under the Old City of Jerusalem.
When we finally arrived at the Pool of Siloam, the daylight was almost overwhelming, and both the guide and I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. I also had a fresh appreciation for those words from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (1:5)
Epiphany is the season in the Church year when we celebrate the coming of the light of Christ into a very dark world. It is a world-changing event that we can never fully comprehend. Epiphany is sometimes referred to as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles – represented by the Magi, that rather odd set of characters introduced to us in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12). While tradition has promoted them to be Kings of the Orient and even given them names – Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar – we really know very little about them from the scriptures.
The story of the Magi’s search for the One who was born the King of the Jews has inspired generations. The story begins in the East, as they study the heavens looking for messages. They conclude that something, or someone, remarkable is about to be born and make a perilous journey to investigate further. Along the way they consult with King Herod and finally make their way to Bethlehem, where they find the infant Jesus with his family. After offering their extravagant gifts that have been the subject of many sermons and Epiphany pageants, they are warned in a dream about Herod’s ulterior motives and return home “by another way.” It is a story that never gets old with the retelling and appeals to all ages. It combines elements of a fascinating adventure story and of supernatural revelations that stretch the mind, no matter how sophisticated we think we have become.
Epiphany season is a good time to remember the many ways in which God still reveals himself to us. For some, those revelations are dramatic and life changing …
One of the classic moments of personal revelation was recorded by John Wesley in his journal of May 24, 1738:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society meeting in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Thus the Methodist movement was born and the course of Christianity in England, the US, and beyond was changed for good!
In our own family life we have been blessed with many epiphanies – especially in our daughter Rachel’s life. From the very first, Rachel has always had a very keen awareness of the presence of God, and this is especially true when someone close to her has died. She will sometimes tell us that she is dancing with the one who has passed into heaven and describe hearing comforting words from the Lord himself. It not only gives Rachel and us great comfort but also reminds us of the words of Jesus who said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
I encourage you to reflect upon your own epiphanies as we head into this Epiphany season.
Your brother in Christ,