“The Great Light: Epiphany, 2022” by Alicia Pollard

Photo by Flo Dahm on Pexels

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)

Epiphany (noun) – “The appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being,” “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking,” “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure”

I first learned about the season of Epiphany from my American Literature professor in college. I wish I could remember his exact words. They were beautiful, and delivered in his rich, deep, joyful voice, strong as black coffee, bright as a bronze sunset. I only remember vaguely a description of a sense of awakening and revelation, and that this season was themed with gold. 

Gold; the stress of final exams looming; my college campus thrumming with Christmas cheer and students’ anxiety and twinkling lights; lantern light glittering on the snowdrifts at night. Light; awakening; revelation; the good news manifested not only to the Jews, God’s chosen people, but then to Samaria, and also to the Gentiles. Including me.

The prophecies of Isaiah 9 are bright threads in an unrolling tapestry of condemnation and promise, light and darkness, peace and war, judgment and forgiveness. Isaiah proclaims the wickedness of Judah and the goodness of God with images of desecrated vineyards, a sacred mountain, grotesque sicknesses, and a glorious branch. Repent! Believe! Be blessed! 


A few summers ago, I visited Glacier National Park in Montana. We hiked to Lake MacDonald at golden hour. The sunset burned a brilliant reddish-orange – somewhere between vermilion and russet, ginger and copper – on the bare, time-hewn stone of the mountains across the water. Their reflection glowed on the lake with a dreamy radiance that almost hurt me. 

The woods had burned, years ago, leaving tree trunks scarred and charcoal-black. Since then, an abundance of white, yellow, and purple flowers had sprung up. We found our way back to the car among them, cricket-song piercing the thickening shadows around us. The crescent moon hung slender and bright in the darkening sky.

I had recurring daydreams about that night for a long time afterwards – the stark, quiet splendor of it. I wonder now if that’s how the Jews in the time of Isaiah and the time of the Lord Jesus felt, looking back at the past: a glorious Golden Age of miracles and victories, wealth and abundance, freedom and power.

But of course, there was no Golden Age, not under Moses, David, or Solomon. Between brief seasons of faithfulness and revival, rebellion was as thick and pervasive as night.


The time of Isaiah’s ministry, the reign of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah and Jerusalem, was a turbulent one, full of revivals and relapses (2 Chronicles 26-28). The land reflects every ray or shadow in the heart of the kings and the people. Faithfulness brought full cisterns and fertile vineyards, mighty victories and foreign tribute. Unfaithfulness brought sickness, defeat, captivity, and dishonor. The fabulous temple Solomon had built gained and lost its sacred treasures almost every generation, its splendor waxing and waning with the people’s loyalty to their God. 

In those days, the nations that surrounded Judah and Jerusalem – Philistines, Ammonites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and even their kinsfolk, Israel,  were both enemies and agents of judgment. Armies surrounded Judah and Jerusalem like hungry lions. Isaiah called for repentance, but when the people turned to false gods, to mediums and necromancers for help: 

. . . they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. (Isaiah 8:22)

It is in this context, then, that the prophecy turns: 

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)

Matthew quotes this passage in his gospel, just after the Lord Jesus has faced the devil’s temptation in the desert and heard that John the Baptist was arrested. John the Baptist, the “burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35) has accomplished his task as the voice in the wilderness, preparing the way. Now, the dawn begins.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Matthew 4:17 (ESV)

Repent! Believe! Be blessed! There are other metaphors for the work of God in us – fertility and fruitfulness, for instance; the cleansing of water; the joy of a feast; the tenderness of a good shepherd. Light may be my favorite.


Somewhere between graduating college and beginning my first job, I began waking up far too early – 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM – and was unable to fall back to sleep. I used the dark morning hours to gobble up books like Perelandra and The Goblin’s Puzzle. Waiting for the sky to soften from star-strewn darkness to dark blue changed my relationship with light. 

In graduate school, I used the time to catch up on schoolwork. My room was blessed with a view of the ruined castle on the North Sea, and the sky was a theatre of lights: twinkling home-lights on the opposite shore, glowing snow on the distant mountains, gleaming ship-lights on the horizon, full moons and dazzling suns rising or sinking into the water. One morning, I got up to find the kitchen glowing with the fierceness of honey, amber, saffron, and a hint of garnet. 

. . . He gives His beloved sleep, says Psalm 127:2. Yes, and much more. He gives us light. 


Through all the bloodshed, famine, and ruin of judgment of Isaiah’s prophecies, God’s grace is a beacon for His chosen nation. That beacon shines beyond the borders of Judah and Jerusalem, to all nations. Foreigners, too, are tucked under the shadow of His wing: 

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Isaiah 60:2-3 (ESV)

The countless shades of dawn and dusk, fierce or gentle: rose, baby’s breath, flame, copper, snow. The blink of a firefly. A moon-path glowing on rippling water. The merry dance of flames in a fireplace. The fierce blaze of sunset on west-facing windows. The wilderness of stars. God designed it all, spoke it into being, and then used it to teach us what He would do in our hearts. 

A group of stargazers, treasure-laden and numb with awe, chase a brilliant lamp in the eastern sky. A wild man dressed in camel’s hair and leather, lean on locusts and honey, calls for repentance by the river. his  eyes burning with the fire of prophecy. A carpenter walks to Capernaum, his footsteps no deeper or bigger than any others on the road, his face no more beautiful or commanding than any other man’s. 

But then He speaks. And of the many who listen, some truly hear . . . and can finally, for the first time, see . . . 

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