We’ve made it through the darkness. We’ve maintained hope that light will emerge, that good will overcome. We’re ready to celebrate.
Tolkien’s tale of Middle Earth is like a traditional epic in that it follows a story of good versus evil where good comes out on top in the end. Each and every character is striving for restoration of some sort.
Aragorn is striving for the restoration of a kingship in Gondor, the restoration of the Numenoreans, and the restoration of his relationship with Arwen Evenstar.
Boromir and Faramir are striving for the restoration of Minis Tirith and their faltering people.
Legolas, along with the other Elves, is striving for the restoration of Middle Earth before their departure into the West, hoping to leave Middle Earth in a situation ripe for the time of the Secondborn.
The Hobbits are striving for restoration of the peace of the Shire and their simple lives free from drama and adventure.
Gandalf is striving for the ultimate restoration of a reign of goodness to counter and defeat the reign of evil that Sauron has represented for so many years.
Each and every character is striving for peace and longing for joy.
Oh, aren’t we all?
Those of us in the Christian tradition know that there was a time that the world was good. It was free from evil, perfectly created to sustain life and love and joy and happiness. We know that this peaceful, joyful world was destroyed when evil entered in the form of a serpent. And for centuries and centuries, we’ve been awaiting a time when goodness returns.
Those on Middle Earth knew the same. In the tales they passed down for age upon age, they knew that the Valar strove to create a dwelling place of peace and flourishing under the rule of Illuvatar. They knew that this dwelling was marred by the destruction of Melkor. They knew that the world as they were experiencing it now was but a distorted reflection of what it was designed to be.
During Advent, we feel this wait more keenly. Perhaps it wasn’t always meant to be this way, but in the reality we know, darkness precedes light. We wade through chaos to get to peace. We fall so that we may be picked up. The Israelites passed down the tales of God’s rescue and redemption while waiting anxiously for the promised Messiah who would provide the ultimate rescue and redemption. Christians today pass down the tale of Jesus’s life on earth and provision of eternity while waiting anxiously for the restoration of the world as it was intended to be. During Advent, we recognize and remember that we are still waiting. All is not yet as it should be.
By the time we reach The Return of the King, our friends are in the direst of needs. Frodo has been taken by Orcs of Mordor and Sam is left alone with the Ring, trying to rescue his master. Pippin has foolishly looked into the Seeing Stone of Orthanc, revealing himself to Sauron and hastening war. Frodo and Sam will soon reunite and begin their final trudge across the plains of Mordor seeking their way to Mount Doom. Pippin and Gandalf will stand with Minis Tirith amidst an onslaught of evil as war comes. Merry will ride alone alongside the Rohirrim, feeling neglected and unneeded. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli will face uncertainty as they pass through the Paths of the Dead. Faramir will fight losing battles against too many foes in an attempt to bring honor to his father.
It is dark, indeed.
Yet it won’t remain.
Foolish Pippin will become a Guard of the Citadel of Minis Tirith and, out of his unwavering hope, will save Faramir from premature death at the hand of his deranged father, Denethor. Faramir will enter into the Houses of the Healing with Eowyn and Merry, who, instead of succumbing to feelings of uselessness, rode forth into battle with the Rohirrim and, together, killed the Witch King. Faramir will show Eowyn the respect and love she craves and together they will rebuild Ithilien. Aragorn, with his unwavering friends, will pass safely through the Paths of the Dead and rally the people outside of Minis Tirith to battle against Sauron’s forces. The able members of the fellowship will follow Gandalf in a hopeless march against the fullness of Sauron’s army in order to give Frodo and Sam a chance to make it to Mount Doom. And they will make the long march. Though Frodo becomes almost too weak to continue and, in the end, succumbs to the power of the Ring, Sam, and even Gollum, aid him in accomplishing his task. Against all odds, the Ring is destroyed.
“‘Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,’ said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire. ‘Master!’ cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone.”The Return of the King
Though the movie doesn’t quite do it justice (despite its several false endings), nearly sixty percent of The Return of the King is dedicated to what comes after the Ring’s destruction and Sauron’s fall. And what comes after is restoration.
“Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: ‘It wasn’t a dream! Then where are we?’ And a voice spoke softly behind him: ‘In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.’ With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. ‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said. But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer.”The Return of the King
Gandalf is revealed as alive to Frodo and Sam, who have ventured all this time assuming he had fallen to his death. Aragorn takes up his rightful place as King of Gondor, but not before honoring Faramir as the continued Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien. Faramir takes Eowyn to be his wife. Merry and Pippin retain high honors as knights of Rohan and Gondor. Legolas and Gimli eventually depart to explore the mysteries of Fangorn Forest and the caverns at Helm’s Deep together. Aragorn weds Arwen Evenstar surrounded by Elrond, Celeborn, Galadriel, and his companions and people. Upon returning to the Shire, the Hobbits are dismayed to find it not fully restored, but under the control of Saruman, Yet, with the strength given to them by their trials, they’re able to reclaim and regrow the Shire. Sam, with his little box of earth from Lothlorien that he has carried through the direst of circumstances, does again what all good gardeners do; he embraces darkness and brings goodness to light. In the Party Field, a “beautiful young sapling leaped up; it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn and it was the wonder of the neighborhood.”
“Then [Gandalf] held out his hands to them, and they saw that one shone with light. ‘What have you got there?’ Frodo cried. ‘Can it be -?’ ‘Yes, I have brought your two treasures. They were found on Sam when you were rescued, the Lady Galadriel’s gifts: your glass, Frodo, and your box, Sam. You will be glad to have these safe again.'”The Return of the King
The song of Illuvatar was meant for joy and peace. Its incarnation was meant for this also. And yet, as we’ve walked through the ages, witnessing the Valar’s work in Middle Earth, withdrawal to Aman, the coming of the Elves and then Men, the slow waning of the Elves’ power and return to Valinor, the fall of the Numenoreans, the rise and fall of Melkor, and the rise and fall of Sauron, we see how that purpose was thwarted, then regained. It is a clear representations of the threads running through our own life: darkness that leads to light; hope and faith that leads to joy and peace.
It’s important to remember where that hope and faith must be placed, however, and where the joy and peace will be found. And that is the story of Advent. It’s faith and hope in a promise made thousands of years ago; it’s faith and hope in a baby born in a manger; it’s faith and hope in redemption bought by blood. And the joy and peace to be found? It’s in the arms of God. It’s in repentance and submission to a will greater than our own. It’s in the kingdom we still await, but know is coming.
“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”The Fellowship of the Ring
“[T]he ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”The Return of the King