Epiphany, the End of a Long Search

C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel share something in common with some ancient characters in the story of the Bible. They all came to believe that they were led to Jesus. Lewis, McDowell, and Strobel all came to Jesus quite reluctantly. The ancient characters described in the Bible story made a great and unusual effort to find Him.

Lewis told his story of conversion to faith in Christ in a book entitled Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life. He had become a hard-boiled unbeliever and skeptic in his late twenties. His mother died when he was a child, and neither he, his brother nor their father handled it very well. He graduated with a “First” in two different fields of study from Oxford University. This means that he was the top of his class in these areas of study from one of the top universities in the world. He was getting a good start in his teaching assignment at Oxford, becoming more and more entrenched in his unbelief, when something upsetting and unusual happened.

Here is how Lewis described that moment of crisis: “Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.’ To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not—as I would still have put it—‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there no escape?”

He reports in Surprised by Joy that there was no escape. Once he explored the evidence for himself, his atheism began to wilt and ultimately it crumbled to the ground. A new perspective had taken root and was going to grow into a large tree of faith. Or, in a timelier way of putting this, a flicker of light had penetrated the darkness and had begun to burn more and more brightly.

It was just such a light that some ancient men discovered in the sky, which in some amazing manner led them right to the child Jesus and his mother and step-father. The Gospel of Matthew (chapter 2) tells about this caste of stargazers the Greeks called magoi that somehow inferred from astronomical observations that a new “king of the Jews” would be born. They traveled a very long way, created quite a stir upon their arrival in Jerusalem, and finally found the place where Jesus lived. When they saw the child, they bowed before him in worship and presented him gifts fit for a king: gold, incense, and myrrh. That is what Christians celebrate on January 6 each year, what is called “Epiphany,” meaning “a revelation.”

People like Lewis, Strobel and McDowell argue that just such a revelation could be waiting for us. Of course, we could try to play it safe, too. But if this story is true, there is nothing in the world with which to compare it. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “Let them at least be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognize that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him (Pensees, #194). Perhaps a personal Epiphany awaits.

Smiley Mudd

Living in a Post-Christmas World

Every year in late December, as I drive about town, I inevitably see what for me is a symbol of the season: a deflated Santa Claus on someone’s front yard. Now really, I am not completely offended by the Jolly Old Man. He represents a tradition that stretches all the way back to a great Christian in the late 3rd and early 4th century, Nicholas of Myra, Turkey—St. Nicholas in popular parlance. Nicholas was a famous Christian about whom a variety of legends have grown. One of the main ones is that he gave away his inherited wealth and went about the countryside helping the poor and sick. Even the Fat Man in the Red Suit is still a flicker of that ancient Christian story, and so I don’t hold any grudge against him.

However, his is now a story of much form and little substance. He is an inflated invention of modern times. He is full of cheer and bears gifts for the “nice” people, but the worst he can do is to put a lump of coal in the stocking of the “naughty.” Even in this there is a semblance of justice, but rather of a weak and toothless kind. The trouble with inflated things is that they won’t hold air forever.

As I write this column, my family is watching the classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Carol. It is the 1984 edition in which George C. Scott plays Ebenezer Scrooge. That Charles Dickens’ story is a tale with more grit and with much more at stake. The possible outcomes of life truly are stark, and they could not be more opposite to each other. And there is indeed opportunity in this life to change the path—and the destiny—of our journey. The Scripture being read in the Cratchit household makes the point of the story subtly but clearly: “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, ESV). Mr. Scrooge truly does “turn” as he humbles himself before heaven and becomes like a little child in his repentance, begging for mercy and a chance to change his ways. Bob Cratchit’s quote from Tiny Tim suggests the gospel in the story, albeit again hinted but not proclaimed (I paraphrase): “I hope the people see me at church, and they remember the one who made the lame walk and the dumb speak.”

It is now nine days after Christmas. We are living in a post-Christmas world, but not just this week—rather, for the past two millenia. “And the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of an only-born from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 14:6). As I see it, nothing now remains the same. Our very physical world is now hallowed, if not haunted, because of the Incarnation. God holds insider information about the human lives that He created in His image. The Son of God “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). That writer gets the point: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16-5:1 ESV). Let us, indeed! And shucks, “God bless us, every one!”

Smiley Mudd