Title: “The Power of a Story That Is True”
Text: Matthew 1:18 - 2:23
Date: December 24, 2005 (Christmas Eve)
People love good stories don’t they? If they didn’t, books and movies wouldn’t be so popular. There’s just something about a good story that stirs our emotions and moves us in a way that nothing else can - that’s why we cry when we see sad movies and remember stories we heard as little children as if we had just heard them yesterday. And because stories are such a powerful force in our lives, tonight, I’d like to draw your attention for a moment to a collection of seven stories that have captured the imagination of millions during the past fifty years.
I’m talking, of course, about the seven books called the "Chronicles of Narnia," the most famous of which is "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" which was recently made into a blockbuster movie that opened in theaters all over the place a few weeks ago.
Now I just need to let you know up front that the Narnia books were written by a Christian author named C.S. Lewis and they have always been a favorite at our house.
In fact, twice during the past ten years, when my kids were younger, I actually read all seven books out loud to my children before they went to bed. And as my kids can tell you, when you listen to me read the "Chronicles of Narnia," you’ve got to pay close attention, because you never know when I’ll suddenly stop reading and ask for a quick “symbolism check!”
You see, even though the Narnia stories are fictional, they are filled with symbols and images which closely mirror the great truths that are found in the Christian faith. For example:
Aslan, the great talking lion who appears in several of the books, is clearly a representation of Jesus. Similarly, characters like the White Witch in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and Tash in some of the later books represent evil. And, of course, the children who frequently appear in the seven books represent people like us who struggle with sin, faith and the ability to believe in things which they cannot see.
Now given that the Narnia stories are so filled with Christian symbols and imagery, whenever I would read them to my kids, I would often stop right in the middle of a paragraph and say “symbolism check,” and at that point, one of my kids would need to be able to tell me how the particular thing I’d just read in the story taught us something about our real Christian faith.
Of course, until I got the answer from somebody, we wouldn’t move on to the next paragraph, and as a result, this little habit of mine could get quite frustrating if we were right in the middle of suspenseful chapter!
But anyway, because the Christian images in the "Chronicles of Narnia" are so clear and obvious, I was really happy a few weeks ago when I saw the movie and discovered that the Hollywood film makers chose to leave most of Christian symbolism in the film.
You see, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the fictional country of Narnia has fallen under the influence of the evil White Witch who has placed the land in a state of perpetual winter. In fact, the best way to describe Narnia is summed up by one of the characters in the book when he says, “Why it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
Now as somebody who once lived in Chicago, I can relate to that description. “Always winter and never Christmas” sounds a lot like the time from January right up into the month of May when you live up north! It’s a time when everything is cold and gray and it seems like the Spring will never come.
Anyway, as the story goes, there is One who has the power to defeat the evil White Witch, and in the story he is Aslan, the great Lion who is referred to as “the son of the Emperor from across the Sea.” In the story, Aslan is quite obviously a symbol of Jesus who is described in the Bible as the “Lion of Judah.”
In both the book and the movie, as the creatures who live in Narnia hear that “Aslan is on the move,” the ice and snow that has covered the ground for a hundred years begins to melt, the trees once again start blooming, and Father Christmas appears bearing gifts for those who had been forgotten.
Thus, the book and the movie both draw many strong parallels between what Aslan does for the creatures of Narnia and what the Lord does for the world. And although "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is just a story, it is a fictional story which does much to remind us of the “real story” of Christmas which is given to us in the pages of scripture.
In Isaiah 40: 3-5 the prophet predicts the coming of God’s salvation when he says:
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Just as Aslan brings new life and new hope whenever he begins to move in the fictional land of Narnia that has been enslaved to evil, in the same way, Jesus is the One who brings new life and new hope to those who are living in darkness in the REAL world. The Lord is the One who shatters the oppressive power of evil over people - and Christmas, my friends, is the moment when God bursts forth into the dreariness of the human condition to bring the power of heaven’s love to earth!
Yes, dear friends, tonight, Jesus is on the move.
Although He was born a humble child in a stable two thousand years ago, He is alive and well today, and He is on the move. Jesus is moving right here, right now through His Holy Spirit - and He desires to take up residence in the hearts of all who will embrace Him.
Although Jesus died on the Cross two thousand years ago, He is alive and well today, and He is on the move. Jesus is still moving right here, right now, through the power of His Holy Spirit - and He is ready and waiting to forgive sins and give a fresh start to anyone who will bow before Him and ask for His mercy.
And my prayer for you this most holy of nights is that this Christmas, YOU will embrace the Savior who has the ability to melt the ice of a hardened heart and grant new and eternal life to anyone who will receive His grace, mercy and forgiveness.
The question is: Will you receive Him?
You know, Christmas Eve is a rather strange time for many people. It’s a night when many people find their way into churches all over the world who never attend church at any other time of year. In fact, you might be just such a person.
Perhaps you’re here tonight because its part of a family tradition. Maybe you’re here in worship this evening because you like to sing Christmas carols by candlelight as you get into the right frame of mind for tomorrow.
The truth is, many of the people who attend church on Christmas Eve around the world are people who love the STORY of Christmas but have a hard time accepting the TRUTH of that story.
Certainly the Christmas story as we read it in the gospels IS a great story. As we heard it tonight from Matthew’s Gospel, it includes all the elements of a great story: romance, conflict, treachery, murder, intrigue and suspense.
Yet even though most people acknowledge that they do LIKE the Christmas story - the real question is: Do they acknowledge the TRUTH of that story?
I know that as a young teenager, I attended a church where the service on Christmas Eve looked very much like the one we’re having tonight, yet the church itself wasn’t a Christian church and most of the people in attendance didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Instead, we had a Christmas Eve candlelight service in that church because it seemed like a “nice” way of getting into the holiday spirit even though very few of the people there believed in what the Bible teaches about the meaning of Christmas.
Perhaps you find yourself in the same spot here tonight. Perhaps you like the “feelings” that the Christmas story brings to your heart, but you just aren’t convinced that any of the “facts” of the Christmas story are reliable or trustworthy.
Well if that describes you, let me just share a few more words with you about the "Chronicles of Narnia." You see, the author of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a guy named C.S. Lewis - and when he was eighteen years old, C.S. Lewis wrote the following letter to a friend - he said:
“You ask me (about) my religious views: you know, I think I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention...
Thus religion, that is to say mythology, grew up. Often, too, great men were regarded as gods after their death - such as Hercules or Odin: thus after the death of a Hebrew philosopher Yeshua (whose name we have corrupted into Jesus), he became regarded as a god, a cult sprang up, which was afterwards connected with the ancient Hebrew Yahweh-worship, and so Christianity came into being - one mythology among many.” [From The Letters of C.S. Lewis by W.H. Lewis quoted at lamblion.com]
Hmmm. When you hear the words of that letter written by C.S. Lewis when he was eighteen, it certainly sounds like the words and thoughts of an atheist - of a guy who didn’t believe in God and who certainly didn’t believe in the doctrines of Christianity.
In fact, C.S. Lewis was an atheist until the age of 31 and he was also a very bright guy. As a professor at Oxford, Lewis was not exactly what one would call an intellectual slouch - yet for several years, he remained an avowed atheist. Then, at age 31, while contemplating the existential realities of life and reading the works of some of the great philosophers, he came to the intellectual conclusion that God must exist - nevertheless, he still was not a Christian.
You see, a person can believe in the existence of a “higher power” or a “supreme being,” and still not believe the truths of Christianity. And that’s where C.S. Lewis was at age 31.
A year later, however, at age 32, while discussing mythology and Christianity with some pals of his, including J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, they challenged him to think critically about Jesus in ways he had never before considered.
After that conversation with Tolkien, Lewis says he stayed awake that night wrestling with the concept of Jesus as God in the flesh. And in the dark hours of the early morning, Lewis accepted the truth about Christ. Twelve days later he wrote these words to a friend - he said: “I have passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ - in Christianity.”
Now as C.S. Lewis continued to reason about Jesus and His claims to be God, he did more than just write children’s books. In fact, he wrote many books including one called "Mere Christianity" in which he asked that most profound of questions: “Is Jesus God or is he just what many people say ‘a great moral teacher?’” Lewis then came to the conclusion that has convicted millions since that time as he stated:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must take your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else he was a madman or something worse.” [Quoted at lamblion.com]
My friends, Christmas is a time of making choices. It is a time that calls for a decision: Is Jesus God in human flesh? Is He the eternal Savior born in a stable in Bethlehem for the redemption of the world? Is the Christmas story a true story?
Or, was Jesus just another illegitimate baby born to a girl who conjured up a crazy story about his conception to get the focus off of her own sin? Was the Christmas story just another great myth thought up by people looking to create another good story to explain the human condition?
Those are the choices we must make this night.
I think everyone will admit that the Christmas story can touch people’s hearts - I think everyone will admit that the Christmas story is a story well told by the Gospel writers - but we must all one day answer the question for ourselves: Is the Christmas story true?
If you accept that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, then tonight you realize that the difference between the Christmas story and all of the other stories that people tell is that it IS true. Unlike so many myths and fairy tales which take place “in a galaxy far, far away” or “once upon a time” in a country no one has ever heard of in a land to which no one has ever been - the Christmas story is full of facts - facts which tell us when it happened, where it happened, why it happened and how it happened.
C. S. Lewis himself put it this way when he said:
“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date, in the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.” (C.S. Lewis quoted at socrates58.blogspot.com)
And my friends, if you recognize the truth of the Christmas story, then tonight is yet one more opportunity for you to revel in the wonder of Christmas and give thanks to God that the baby in the manger is your real Redeemer.
On the other hand, if you do not accept what the Bible says about Jesus, then your only other option is to regard Him as a liar, a lunatic, or even the Devil Himself - because no good moral teacher would make the claims about Himself that Jesus made if they were not true.
Who is that baby in the manger?
Your answer to that question cannot contain ANY “gray area.” Either the Christmas story is true, or it is a lie - there is no “in between answer.”
May God give each of us the wisdom to accept into our own lives the power of the story that IS true on this most holy night.