“SAVING THE WORLD: LION ON THE MOVE”
[Sermon 3 of 3]
“Always winter and never Christmas” is the way that Narnia is described at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Narnia is that way because of the spell of the White Witch. It is truly a dreary and dismal world that Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy enter, seemingly hopeless.
But it is not completely hopeless. There are signs of hope that come early in the story. Something is happening. “They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed,” Mr. Beaver tells the children during their first evening together. (p.57)
The children aren’t exactly sure what that means. At this point they don’t even know who or what Aslan is. But the story goes on to say “And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now.”
Yes, something is happening. Later on Mr. Beaver tells them a little bit more about Aslan, that he is a mighty lion, and he quotes an old poem:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again. (p.66)
The ancients of Narnia had spoken of a time and a person who would be coming to save the world, and the children are now witnessing the fulfillment of that. How much more so have the ancient prophets of this world spoken of One who would be coming to save the world. We’ve heard a lot of those words over and over again, haven’t we?
· For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6)
· The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel. (Is. 7:14)
· The days are coming when I will establish a new covenant with Israel and Judah, not like the covenant I had with their fathers. (Jer. 31:31)
· There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Is. 11:1-2)
· Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jer. 23:5)
We’ve heard those over and over, and as Christians we claim that those words have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, the Jesus who came to save his people from their sin. The significance of his name cannot be overlooked. The angel tells Joseph that his name will be Jesus, a derivative of the Old Testament Joshua, meaning “save.” Jesus is the one who has come to save.
The fulfillment of the promise for the children in Narnia was in the person of Aslan the Lion, who is also called the “son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea.” Why a lion? Why not a mighty warrior to come and rescue those who were being held captive by the witch’s spell? Why not a magician who could “out-magic” the witch?
According to some of his writings, Lewis had two reasons for choosing a lion. One was that he wanted the one who would come to save a land of talking animals to be himself a talking animal. That’s what the Incarnation is all about. In Jesus, the divine God came into the world of human beings as a human being. He is one of us.
And there was a biblical reason for Lewis to choose the lion. I read a recent article that was rather critical of Lewis and Narnia, and one criticism focused on his choice of the lion. The writer said that it would have been more appropriate to use a humble sheep, because the lamb is the biblical image for Jesus. In her (unbiased) opinion, the lion represented the American Republican macho male. (Any guesses about her politics?) As powerful and biblical as the image of the lamb is, the lion is also very biblical. In Genesis 49 we read these words: “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” (49:9-10) Jesus is the Lamb of God, but also the Lion of Judah.
And perhaps Lewis also wanted to contrast the lion Aslan with the portrayal of the devil as a lion. I Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Lions don’t have to be just bad characters like the devil. In Narnia the lion is good.
The coming of Aslan to Narnia impacts each of the children differently. The news that he is on the move stirs something in each one. “At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sense of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or 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.” (p.57)
It’s interesting how Aslan can impact different ones differently. “The mention of Aslan gave [Edmund] a mysterious and horrible feeling just as it gave the others a mysterious and lovely feeling.” (p.74) The different response was tied to what each child was about at that point in their life. But even among those for whom Aslan conjured up a positive response, there were two sides. “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.” (p.109)
What does the coming of Jesus do for us? There are many people for whom Jesus apparently means absolutely nothing. But there are also those who, whether or not they care to admit it, have a reason to fear for their eternal state. And then there are those who welcome Jesus and what he gives.
But even among those of us who respond positively to Jesus, just as with Aslan, we also are to have attraction and keep our distance at the same time. Sometimes we get so caught up on the love of Jesus, his compassion and kindness, his gentleness and love, that we forget the other side of him. I had a college Bible professor who just couldn’t stand it when people would talk about “sweet Jesus”. He wanted us to have an awe of Jesus. After all, Jesus was also the one who drove out those who were desecrating the temple and God’s holiness, he was the one who did battle with the devil in the wilderness, and stood up to many of the leaders of his day. He is the one before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess. (Phil 2:10) Consider the lion!
As the story develops, we see the power of Aslan to change those he comes in contact with, just the way that Jesus has the power to change us. As you have already surmised, Edmund is the child who gets into trouble and needs to be redeemed. At one point Aslan and the White Witch are arguing over Edmund and his fate. Up until this point, Edmund has been attracted to the witch and her Turkish Delight, even though he is beginning to have his doubts and the voice deep inside him is starting to speak more loudly. “‘You have a traitor there, Aslan,’ said the Witch. Of course, everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.” (p.121) Edmund is being changed by the power of Aslan.
What happens when Jesus begins to work on us and to change us? Do we still get sucked in to the devil and his wiles? Or does the redemptive power of Jesus begin to take over? Maybe we need to consider where our focus is. As long as Edmund was focused on the witch and her Turkish Delight, he was a mess. But once Aslan got a hold of him and he focused on Aslan, the witch didn’t matter any more.
When Peter (the disciple – not the boy in the story) walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee, he did just fine as long as he was looking at Jesus. It was when he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the waves that he began to sink. I have a friend who has a favorite phrase: What you focus on grows. Are you being transformed by Jesus? If not, maybe you need to consider where your focus is. In the words of the old hymn,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
But the greatest task or purpose of Aslan the Lion is not just to get some kind of reaction or even to point Edmund in the right direction. He has really come to Narnia to break the spell of the White Witch, to undo her magic, the magic that has kept Narnia in a state of “always winter and never Christmas.” Breaking the spell is going to be good for everyone.
In order to do that, though, he is going to have to draw on the “deeper magic” that we talked about two weeks ago. Remember that? “If [the witch] could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (p.139)
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, can you guess what happens to Aslan? Yes, he offers himself to be captured and then killed on the Stone Table. Does that sound at all like what Jesus did for us? Those words of Isaiah 53 are so prophetic and descriptive of what would happen to Jesus centuries later, and we hear echoes of those words in these words from the story. “Had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh.” (p.131)
Sadly, Aslan dies, and the children are deeply disappointed and brokenhearted. But then…. a new day dawns, and something truly amazing happens. Yes, you guessed it! Aslan comes back from the dead, and the Stone Table cracks in half. Narnia begins to thaw out. The birds begin to sing and the snow begins to melt and the statues that have been frozen in time by the witch are given new life and become living creatures again. All ends well, and the children move on to new adventures in the next book.
Advent is about the coming of Jesus. (Yes, I realize that many of our children may be more focused on the coming of Santa, but we know that it’s really about Jesus.) What does it mean for us that Jesus is coming, that he’s on the move? We know the story well. We hear it every year. He was born in Bethlehem, grew to be a man with a great ministry, was crucified, died, rose again from the dead, and conquered death and evil and has given us eternal life. Every year we re-live it throughout the liturgical year, and we celebrate and reaffirm the Truth of what God has done for us.
But does it make a difference?
· He came to Bethlehem 2000 years ago, and died on the cross of Calvary for your sins, and rose from the dead to give eternal life. Have you accepted that?
· He comes each day into the hearts and lives of those who are open to him, transforming them more and more, conforming them to his image. Is he changing you?
· He is still on the move, planning to return one day for the “last battle” (that’s the title of the last book in the Narnia series). He will come and take all those who are his to be with him for all eternity. Are you ready for that?
The Lion is on the move!