Micah 3:1-7, Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Advent in Narnia: Aslan Is on the Move
When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie first meet Mr. Beaver in Narnia, he says to them nearly right away, “They say Aslan is on the move - perhaps has already landed.” Aslan is the great lion, the true King of Narnia, the Christ figure of the series. But up until this point, none of the children have ever heard this name mentioned. Mr. Tumnus hadn’t mentioned Aslan to Lucy, and the White Witch certainly did not mention Aslan to Edmund. So at first, the children only have this name that Mr. Beaver speaks to them, as he indicates he wants to take them to see Aslan soon.
Each child reacts differently to hearing the name of Aslan. The narrator describes it to us: “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 has 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. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. Edmund felt the 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.” (64-65)
Mr. Beaver can’t tell the children more about Aslan though until they are safely at his home. The children are eager to hear about him. As soon as they start back into the conversation about him, they have that same feeling they did on first hearing his name, “like the first signs of spring, like good news” had come over them. (74) Mr. Beaver can’t believe they don’t know who Aslan is.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand … But word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.” When Edmund suggests that the White Witch might turn Aslan into stone, Mr. Beaver laughs. “Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no: He’ll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme … ‘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.’” (74-75)
Finally, Lucy asks a critical question. “Is - is he a man?” Again, Mr. Beaver is amazed by how little the children know. “Aslan a man! Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beast? Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion.”
Susan feels afraid at the thought of meeting a lion. “Is he - quite safe?” she wonders. Mrs. Beaver responds that feeling nervous is only sensible. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” (75-76)
“Then he isn’t safe?” Lucy asks. “Safe?” says Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Despite all that’s been said, Peter says that he still longs to meet Aslan, even if he is afraid. And with that, they begin planning to get the children to meet Aslan.
In this season of Advent, we are longing to meet the Christ-child. We’ve been preparing and planning and awaiting his arrival. What are we picturing, when we imagine Jesus coming into our world yet again this season? The children don’t seem, at first, to have a good sense of who Aslan is. They can’t imagine him, meeting this lion, this king, this one the Beavers won’t even declare to be safe. Even so, they long to meet him. When we turn to the scriptures for descriptions of the Messiah we’re longing to meet, how is he described? How do the images the authors of our texts conjure match with the vision of Jesus we have in our minds?
Our first reading is from the book of Malachi, one of the prophets. Malachi wasn’t necessarily a name, though, an individual. Malachi means “the messenger” in Hebrew. So it could be a name, or it could be a title Either way, Malachi delivers a message. Malachi was most likely written sometime after the Israelites had returned from exile, and were again living in the land. The temple had been rebuilt. The covenant restored. People were feeling pretty good. But Malachi has noticed that some of the Israelites - some of the religious leaders in particular - are starting to get lax in their behavior. They’re doing some of the same things that the people were doing that led to the conquering and exile of Israel in the first place.
Malachi writes as a corrective warning: “The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight - indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?” The one who is coming, Malachi says, is like a refiner’s fire, like fuller’s soap, both things that are meant to cleanse something of impurities. The one who is coming will swiftly judge those who go against the ways of God, against those who oppress others. “Return to me,” we hear, “and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”
In our gospel readings from Luke, we find Mary hearing about the coming of the Christ-child, and the role she will play - she will carry him in her own womb. Mary, certainly, gets some ideas about who this Christ-child will be, what he will be like, what he will become. What does she say about him? In the first part of the text, Gabriel arrives with a message for Mary, and we get a description of Jesus: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Whoa! Despite this enormous announcement - Hey, young, single, peasant woman: You are going to give birth to a King, the Son of God in fact. And he’s going to reign forever! - Mary has just one question - how? Gabriel explains that she’ll conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing is impossible with God. And Mary is apparently satisfied. She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary does not seem stunned by God’s actions in her. She’s only “perplexed,” which seems a pretty mild description, and even that only when Gabriel first greets her. On the contrary, she seems to find God’s actions just right. When she later spends time with her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with who we call John the Baptist, Mary has a clear vision of who God is and how God is working through this child she carries to shake up the whole world. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she sings. “God has looked on my lowliness with favor. Surely, people will forever think of me as blessed, because God has done great things for me. God has shown strength, God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, sent the rich away empty. God has helped Israel. God is mercy, fulfilling the promises made to Abraham and the descendants of Abraham.”
Like the children listening to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver for their descriptions of Aslan, we’ve heard some descriptions of this Christ-child we’ve been longing to see. Are we still eager to meet him? As we come to the end of this season of Advent, I hope we can pause now, one last time, and make sure we understand who exactly this Christ-child is. It is pretty easy to get excited about a baby soon-to-be born. And I love the sweet images of Mary holding a newborn Jesus, of the little family, of God being born as one of us, like us, humble and dependent just as we are. But we can’t forget why Jesus is born, and we can’t forget who he grows up to be, and what we says and does. We can’t even forget why and how he died. And thankfully, we can’t forget that he lives, that we follow a resurrected savior. Even as Mary treasures and ponders at Jesus’ birth, we see already from the words of her song, what we call the Magnificat, that Mary knows, understands, even if in part, who her child is.
Sometimes, when we hear a powerful message that convicts our hearts, where we know if we really let the message seep in we’ll have to make changes, our strategy seems to be finding anyway we can to dull the impact of the message. I think, for example, of how Dr. Martin Luther King’s words have been used in commercials for soft drinks and expensive cars, something hard to imagine him supporting, or even how we tend to only read and listen to some of his speeches, not the ones that were calling out capitalism and militarism. I think we can do this with the message of Jesus, too, with the work and words of God, when we water down the power of God’s message to us because we’re secretly - or not so secretly - worried about how significantly God will call us to transform our lives. And so sometimes we can welcome the baby Jesus, tender and mild, and be trying hard not to think about the stuff he will say, calling us to repentance, calling us to take up crosses, calling us to leave everything to follow him. But Jesus the Christ-Child and Jesus who asks for our everything are one and the same!
The Pevensie children are longing to meet Aslan. But they’re also hoping that Aslan is safe. Tame. Human, at least! Aslan is none of those things. Aslan is a lion. Aslan is Ruler of all of Narnia. Aslan isn’t safe, but he’s good. And Aslan is on the move, ready to turn things upside down in Narnia. We are longing to meet Jesus again. And we will! Soon! But friends, though Jesus is one of us, he’s also God-made flesh. He is the Ruler of everything that is. He isn’t safe. He doesn’t call us to paths that are always safe and easy. But he is good. And he is on the move, ready to turn the world upside down again. Let this be the Christ we are longing to welcome. Amen.