Summary: Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent using material from the Chronicles of Narnia to illustrate the faith of Mary
THE CHRONICLES OF MARY
a sermon by Dan Saperstein
preached at First Presbyterian Church, Bridgeport NE
December 18, 2005
Texts: Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26
With the bitter cold and snow we have had lately, many of us can take comfort in the fact that Christmas is just around the corner. It kind of makes the dark and cold bearable. But can you imagine a place where it is always winter but never Christmas? That is how the magical land of Narnia is described when it is first encountered in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first of his Chronicles of Narnia. As you no doubt have learned, the long-awaited film version of this classic Christian fable has just been released. In fact, it was the number one film in America this week.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the book, it recounts the experiences of four British schoolchildren named Pevensie in this magical land of mythical creatures, talking animals, an evil White Witch, and the glorious Aslan, the great lion-king of Narnia who has been absent for ages, but whose return and reign is prophesied to occur when four “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” sit on the thrones of Narnia.
Meanwhile, however, the White Witch has ruled Narnia with threats and violence, turning enemies to stone, and casting her wintry spell over the land, so that it is “always winter but never Christmas.”
The first of the children to venture into Narnia is Lucy, the baby of the family, a mere eight years old. She accidentally enters it through a wardrobe closet in a country manor where she and her three siblings are housed for protection from the London blitz during World War II. Although it is summer in England, it is winter in the lives of the children even before they discover Narnia. They are separated from their families, living in a strange home with strange rules in a stange region while their nation is under attack. Not surprisingly, when Lucy returns from her first foray into Narnia, and tells a fantastic story of a land of mythical fauns and white witches, she is dismissed by her brothers and sister as telling an imaginative tale. But Lucy believes. She knows Narnia is real. And when all the children stumble into Narnia together and learn of Aslan, Lucy believes in him too, and shares in the hope of the Narnian creatures of a redemption soon to come.
For this reason, Lucy is a fitting character to introduce the Biblical story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Indeed, in that sense, the Chronicles of Narnia are very much the Chronicles of Mary. For on this fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, we consider Mary, the very first person to hear the good news of the coming of Christ, and the first person to believe it.
For Israel in the time of Mary, the hopes and promises of God seemed forgotten, never to be fulfilled. For them it was like an endless winter with no Christmas ever to come. It had been 300 years or so since the last of the prophets. But the hope of a Messiah-King to overthrow the Roman occupiers and make Israel a great nation seemed impossible. It had been too long. The Romans were too powerful. No rational person could imagine it.
But faith sometimes defies reason. There was no rational reason for Lucy to believe her Narnia experience was real, and there was no rational reason for Mary to believe the Angel Gabriel when she was told she was to conceive and bear a savior for her people Israel. Madeleine L’Engle, another children’s author and Christian writer once described the season of Advent this way: This is the irrational season / When love blooms bright and wild. / Had Mary been filled with reason / There’d have been no room for the child.” [from The Irrational Season]
That’s the way Advent is. Advent begins with a new kind of thinking, if it be thinking at all. It begins with the announcement of the angel, "Nothing is impossible with God," and the response of Mary, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
Though we know little about Mary historically, as we read the story of Christ’s annunciation and birth, we begin to get a portrait of her as a person. Here is no Mary, meek and mild, but rather a woman of bold faith, who was willing to risk everything for God; a woman who carried not only a child, but the promise of a whole new order, the victory of God.
Some modern feminist theologians have criticized the church’s portrayal of Mary as passive and craven. But what do we see? When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, she does not run away in fear. Nor does she prostrate herself in mindless adoration. The scriptures say she "was much perplexed" at his greeting, and "pondered what sort of greeting this might be." When he tells her she is to bear the Messiah, she doesn’t laugh as Sarah did when told she would give birth to Isaac. She answers soberly, and rationally: How can this be, since I am a virgin?