Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon, "Advent in Narnia: Father Christmas," 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Ephesians 6:10-20

Sermon 12/16/18
1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Ephesians 6:10-20

Advent in Narnia: Father Christmas

Did you make a Christmas wish list as a child? Do you still? Maybe you made a list to give to Santa. I know my mom always requested a list from me, to get ideas, and I loved going to the big Christmas catalogs from Sears and JCPenney and picking out some of the things I’d like to get, imagining opening all those presents on Christmas morning.
These days, my family exchanges Amazon Wish Lists. Sometime in November I send an email around with a link to everybody’s wish list page on Amazon. It’s just so easy, since Amazon has taken over the world and everything. I use my list all year as a sort of bookmark. If I come across a review for a good book I want to read, I just toss it on my list, and then, when I have a little extra money, I shop for myself. At Christmas, it is just as simple as inviting others to shop for me too off of my well-prepared, up-to-date list.
These days, I find myself doing very little Christmas shopping that requires me going to a physical store. I can just pop online and click through the Wish Lists, and before you know it, I have packages showing up at my door, ready to give. I like knowing that people will for sure like what I’m giving them. It was on their list, after all! I certainly like receiving things I’ve asked for, things that were on my list. But there’s something uniquely special, I think, about finding just the right gift for a person, a gift that didn’t come from any wish list.  Maybe something they mentioned in passing, but you remember because you are a good listener, and you pay attention to the things someone says they like. Or maybe something you choose because you just really know someone, and you know they’ll like it, even though they’d never thought of it before. You know them, and you know what will suit them, more even than they might. My mother is the least likely in my family to shop of the Amazon lists. She certainly uses them some, but she’s the most likely to just buy what she thinks her kids would like. Sometimes she gets apologetic about this, about going her own way and not sticking to the list. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Our mother knows us pretty well! And she knows what we might use, what we might love, even when we haven’t thought of it yet.
This week as we head to Narnia again, we find the Pevensie children getting some gifts during a visit from Father Christmas. Well, most of the children anyway. Remember, last week we talked about Edmund, the second youngest of his siblings Peter, Susan, and Lucy. Edmund met the White Witch in Narnia before he met anyone else, and swayed by her promises of endless Turkish Delight and positions of power, Edmund was anxious to get to her home once he returned to Narnia. When he and his siblings finally are all together in Narnia at once, they first end up at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. There, the children first hear about Aslan, the lion, the true rule of Narnia, the Christ-figure of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And there, uncomfortable by this talk of Aslan, just as his siblings are filled with joy as the hear about Aslan, Edmund slips out to find his way back to the White Witch.
Once the beavers and Edmund’s siblings realize Edmund has gone to the White Witch, they pack up with haste and leave to try to meet Aslan before the White Witch can come and capture them. She’s anxious to keep the four children from fulfilling a prophecy that would spell the end of her rule in Narnia. As the kids and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver try to go as quickly as they can, eventually they hear the sound of jingling bells. They’re sure they’ve been found, and that the bells mean the Witch’s sleigh has caught up with them. Instead, they see something that fills Mr. Beaver with delight - “Come and see,” he says, dancing with delight. “This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling.” (102)
There is indeed  sleigh and reindeer. But on the sleigh sits not the White Witch but “a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him.” He was a huge man with a robe bright red like holly-berries. He has a great white beard that fell over his chest. And the narrator tells us, “Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world - the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia, it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But … the children … didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.” (102-103)
Father Christmas confirms that the Witch’s magic is weakening, enabling him to visit Narnia again at last. “Aslan is on the move,” he says, and Lucy feels a shiver of gladness run through her which “you only get if you are being solemn and still.” And then Father Christmas proceeds to do what he does best - he gives out presents. To the beavers he gives some practical gifts - a new sewing machine for Mrs. Beaver, and a repaired and mended dam for Mr. Beaver. And to the children, he gives some special gifts too. He says, “These are your presents, and they are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.” To Peter, he gives a shield and sword, the shield emblazoned with the symbol of Aslan. Peter, we read, is “silent and solemn as he received these gifts for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.” Susan receives a bow and a quiver of arrows, and a horn, which Father Christmas promises will summon help of some kind whenever she sounds it. Lucy is given a glass bottle filled with  cordial made from the juice of fire-flowers that grow on the mountains of the sun. A few drops will heal and restore someone who is hurt. She is also given a dagger, to defend herself in times of great need. With that, Father Christmas says, “Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” and disappears again as quickly as he had arrived. (104-105)
The gifts the children receive remind me of the passage that we shared today from the letter to the Ephesians. The author of the letter is encouraging the Ephesians to stay strong, supported by God’s power. We’re told to “put on the whole armor of God” so that we might resist evil. Our struggle isn’t against “enemies of blood and flesh,” but against the cosmic powers of “this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” When we celebrate a baptism, or someone becoming a member of the church, the very first vow we ask folks to make is that they will renounce, reject the spiritual forces of wickedness. The author here says to do this, we have to take up the whole armor of God, so that we can stand firm. We need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, any shoes that make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Are those gifts that are on your Christmas list? Peter and Susan and Lucy certainly never imagined themselves needing gifts that would prepare them for a great battle between good and evil. But when Father Christmas gave them those gifts, they knew that they were receiving something special. They knew to treasure and value and most importantly learn to use what they’d be given.
Our other reading today is a short section from First Corinthians. I encourage you to read this whole chapter - there’s a lot about the kind of gifts God gives us here. We’ve talked before about how God gives us gifts that help us build up the body of Christ. That’s what this short passage emphasizes. We’re all given different gifts - but they come from the same source - the Spirit of God. And, the gifts are meant “for the common good.” If our gift is from God, and we’re using our gift how God intends, we’re doing something that’s meant not just for our own good, but for the good of all of us.
What are the gifts that God has given you? It strikes me that Edmund doesn’t receive a gift from Father Christmas, at least not in this story. He’s not there. He’s busy chasing down Turkish Delight, and so he misses the visit from Father Christmas. I don’t think we can miss getting gifts from God - we all are gifted by God who loves to give. But I think we can miss opportunities to learn about our gifts, to develop our gifts, to use our gifts to their full potential when we’re too busy focusing on what’s good for us only to notice what God is up to. Has there been a time when you missed using God’s gift to you? A time when you were so busy taking care of you that you didn’t see how God had equipped you to love and serve others?  
Father Christmas says the gifts he gives Peter and Susan and Lucy are tools, not toys. He wants them to know that they have some serious things to face, and using what they’ve been given will help them face what’s coming. I’m wondering - when have you seen what you’ve been given, and valued it as less useful than God has meant it to be? We have a tendency to belittle ourselves and belittle what God has given us. I don’t think we mean to. But since we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us, love ourselves the way God loves us, we sometimes don’t take the gifts God gives us very seriously. God’s gifts to you are tools, meant to help in sharing the love of God, the message of God’s grace with the world. God’s gifts help you nurture and grow your faith. Tools, not toys. Will you remember?
My favorite part of this scene from Narnia is how the children know intuitively that this giving of gifts calls for some solemnity, some stillness. And yet, it is also a joyful moment. Lucy feels that gladness in her heart that you can experience when you are still enough, when you are aware enough of the sacred in your midst to fully and deeply appreciate that God is at work right in front of you, right within you. We talked about when we experience these moments of solemn, still joy at our Advent study this week. We talked about a child looking with wonder at the lighted Christmas tree. I talked about the feeling I get while officiating a wedding ceremony, or while speaking the words of baptism and sprinkling the water over a child’s head. Sometimes, when we remember fully that God is with us, that God is at work, we can feel a little solemn, a little quiet. And then our hearts have the peace and the room to be filled with gladness.

This week, friends, as we continue on this Advent journey, I encourage you to find some time for a piece of quiet, a moment of stillness and solemnity. God is giving us a gift - the Christ-child will be born in our midst, in our hearts yet again. Maybe we didn’t even know we wanted it, needed it, but God knows us better than anyone. And with the gift of the Christ-child come God’s gifts just for you. You tell me - what are the gifts that God has for you? For what purpose is God giving you these tools? Are you fulfilling their purpose? Are you showing up to receive what God has to give? My prayer for us this Advent is that our hearts are filled with that shiver of gladness that runs through our souls when we open our lives to all that God would have us receive. Amen.

All quotes are from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

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