Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas in Narnia: The Way to Truly Celebrate

Early this week I and my family were able to see the motion picture version of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As a family, we have anticipated the release of this film since the first preview, released almost one year ago. Also, our oldest son Samuel and I had just finished reading this book during the summer, so he was anxious to see how the adventure he loved so much would be portrayed on the silver screen.

As we expected, it was a great experience. As I thought of the true meaning behind the metaphor, I found myself quite emotional. Yet this Christmas season, one line taken from the book struck me as particularly profound. And as I continue to ponder the focal point of this season, I finally understand the tragedy of living a life reflected by the setting described by the faun Mr. Tumnus, in which it is "always winter, but never Christmas."

Of course, the tale is fictional, but C.S. Lewis intended his allegory to be exactly that from the start. In fact, his goal was to be able to read the entire story to a child, and simply say to the child at the end "Aslan is Christ," resulting in the child understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. Consequently, the story rightly centers around the coming of the great Lion and the fulfillment of the prophetic freeing of Narnia.

As much as we enjoyed the film, movie screens can never depict with the same depth and precision what the human imagination can conceive with a book in hand. For example, when Mr. Beaver tells of the coming of Aslan, there was no possible way for movie makers to portray the following reaction by the children:

At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

In this part of his masterpiece, Lewis rightly captures the juxtaposed whole of what should permeate the heart of a Christ-follower--delight and adventure, excitement and horror--such are the appropriate extreme emotions in the presence of the King of Kings!

Yet as believers approach the coming Christmas season, I fear that our emotions might in fact be the opposite of that expressed by young Lucy. Rather than feeling the holidays have begun because of the name of Christ, we feel the obligatory pull to somehow recognize Christ because of the holidays. This not only puts the "cart before the horse," it dishonors Him who is to be adored above all things, and that at all times, not just at Christmas.

The lack of awe that many professing Christians have for the sovereign Christ is a year-round phenomenon, but is amplified at this time of year, as so many seem more impressed with the lights at Rockefeller Center than with the Light of the World--more fearful of the prospect of stolen gifts than of the reality of the Incarnate Word. Now is certainly the time of year to remember the warning of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Responding to Lucy's question of whether this Lion is "safe," Mr. Beaver asserts "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly . . .don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King I tell you!"

The movie, as well as the book, also makes clear the fact that Christmas is inaugurated by the coming of Aslan, and until his coming, the White Witch has cast a spell over all of Narnia, so that it is "always winter, but never Christmas."

This is something to think about as we ponder the meaning of the "Christmas culture wars." The desire by businesses, governments and schools to eliminate Jesus from the holidays is, ultimately, their attempt to officially allign our nation with what has likely been reality for many years now . . . it is always winter, but never Christmas!

Rest assured; when Santa Claus gets more attention than our Sovereingn God, that isn't Christmas, just winter!

When families merely tip their hats toward the Bethlehem manger on their way to open gifts and commit gluttony, never again to pick up a Bible and reflect deeply on how God Incarnate fulfills every redemptive promise that assures me of an eternity in His presence, that isn't Christmas, just winter!

Make no mistake: Christmas is because Jesus is! In Narnia, Father Christmas makes his appearance in this fantasyland only after it is announced by the Beavers that "Aslan is on the move." Without the coming Son of God, there is nothing to celebrate. Conversely, because He has come, there is much to celebrate! No doubt 2005 has been especially hard on many. Some have faced financial hardships, others sickness, others the death of a spouse, parent or other relative, and still others the anxiety that comes with knowing their loved-one is serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other area of the world. (Lewis was accutely aware of such anxiety, and set the timeline for Narnia in the midst of World War II).

To these, it will be a difficult time around the tree this season, and apart from a renewed awe for the baby in the manger, this season, even with the gifts and decorations, will be "always winter, never Christmas."

But those who have faced hardships this year as well as those who have simply minimized the meaning of this season are presented with the same solution: Stand at the manger. Meditate, as did Simeon, on the identity of this child. Tremble with fear at the One who is infinitely more than a baby. Remember with trepidation the words of Mr. Tumnus that "he isn't a tame lion." Moreover, remember that He isn't a baby anymore, but that Christmas, in remembering His first coming, also reminds us of His promise to come again.

And on doing this, let your heart feel brave and adventurous. Let your soul delight in the sweetness of His presence that Scripture tells us is the fulness of a joy that cannot be duplicated by even the most tight-knit family. Most of all, let your excitement over the coming holiday be fueled by the salvific miracle of the incarnation. And know that the holidays have truly begun, not because of parties, gifts, or even the presence of family . . . .

. . . .but because "Aslan is on the move!"

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