Monday, December 03, 2018

Sermon, "Advent in Narnia: The Wardrobe and the Lamppost," Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 7:13-14, John 1:1-9

Sermon 12/2/18
Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 7:13-14, John 1:1-9


Advent in Narnia: The Wardrobe and The Lamppost


Today is the First Sunday of Advent. And this year, we’re spending Advent in Narnia. How many of you have read the book or watched the movie The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe? The book is the first in the series of seven books called The Chronicles of Narnia, written by theologian C.S. Lewis for his goddaughter Lucy. Lewis wrote the books in the late 1940s and first half of the 1950s. Lewis is the author of Christian classics like Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain, but in his Chronicles, written for children, he shows a whimsical imagination and a more grace-centered theology than we find elsewhere in his works (in my opinion at least!) The Chronicles can be read with a secular worldview, but the books are laden with Christian imagery, heavy with meaning. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, set during a long winter in the magical land of Narnia is the perfect setting then to help us enter into the spirit of Advent.
Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are English school children who have temporarily gone to live away from their parents during World War II to be kept safe. They’re sent to live with an eccentric man who is a professor, and they have lots of fun exploring the big old house full of antiques and treasures. In one room, they find there is only a large wardrobe with a long mirror on the door. Most of the siblings aren’t interested in the room or the wardrobe, and turn to leave as quickly as they entered, but Lucy, the youngest, is curious. She’s sure that the wardrobe door will be locked, but she just has to try it to see. It isn’t locked, and so she steps in, being careful to leave the door open behind her. She pushes through lots of winter coats, only to find that the wardrobe is larger than she expected. And suddenly, it isn’t a wardrobe at all, but tree branches that she pushes through, emerging in a snowy wood with a tall, bright street lamp lighting the scene. She meets there a faun - a creature who is half man, half goat - named Mr. Tumnus, and she discovers that she has somehow found her way into a land called Narnia through the door of the wardrobe. We’ll talk about what unfolds there more in the weeks ahead, but today, we’re thinking about two of the first things Lucy encounters in relation to Narnia - the wardrobe, and the lamppost.
The wardrobe is the entrypoint to Narnia. Later in the book we hear mention of the fact that there are other doors into the world of Narnia - the wardrobe is just one of them, and later in the series we find out that the wardrobe is a door because it is made from the wood from a tree that grew from the seed of a fruit that was from Narnia itself. We discover, too, that the children can’t just get into Narnia when they want to. Getting to Narnia involves something of a sense of call. The children can get to Narnia when Narnia needs them. When Lucy first returns from her visit to Narnia, and she tries to show her brothers and sister what she’s found, they find nothing - just a regular wardrobe. They think Lucy is telling stories, that she’s let her imagination run wild. It’s only after Susan and Peter, the older siblings, talk to the professor (who has been to Narnia too, though he doesn’t share that with them just yet) about Lucy’s Narnia’s stories and he encourages them to have an open mind that the rest of the children also find their way to Narnia through the door of the wardrobe.
I’m wondering - what are the doors you’ve encountered in your life? When has there been a path, a way that was opened to you? Did you go through the door? What opportunities have you taken, and what ones have you missed? What door are you standing outside of, while God is calling to you from the other side? Are you like Lucy? The first to fling the door open and step through to what God has waiting? Or are you more like the older siblings, doubting that God has a Narnia-place to show you?
We heard two short verses from Matthew’s gospel this morning. Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Sometimes, God’s way is hard, isn’t it? Sometimes following Jesus takes everything we’ve got. Sometimes, it would so much easier if we could just tune out Jesus’ voice and hit that nice, open road, with the big, wide gate at the end. But we know, we know that we’ll wish we chose the other path - the narrow path, but the path of life. In our Advent Study this week, we remembered that Jesus told us how to stay on the path that keeps us in God’s way. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So what is Lucy like, that leads her to find Narnia? What are children like? Lucy is curious, and kind-hearted, and unafraid. Her heart and mind are ready to receive unexpected things. Brave Lucy has to go all the way into the wardrobe and push through all the coats, and traverse the temporary darkness before she gets to the trees and to Narnia.
I think of the children in our own community of faith. When we share in the Children’s Message during worship, it isn’t just so we can be entertained by the kids and the sweet, sincere answers they give to my questions. First, foremost, of course, that time is so that they can learn, so that they can be more fully a part of our worship services, and so that they know that whatever we’re talking about in the sermon time is for them, too, even if we need to talk about it in different ways for it to be clearer for children. But after that, that Children’s Time in worship is so that we can learn from them. I think of asking the kids what the world needed a few weeks ago, and how quickly they listed so many ways they could see that we could be working for change, caring for our planet and its peoples. I think about talking to them about how God might call to them, how God speaks in dreams, and Alana sharing how God spoke to her, no big deal. I think about how eager they are to help, however we’ll let them. How they always know that choosing kindness and love is the way of Jesus, even when it is hard to put into practice. And I know that if they found a room with a wardrobe, they’d go through the door and find Narnia. Can we let them lead us on God’s path, right into the heart of God?
If the wardrobe is the entry point to Narnia, then the lamppost is sort of the symbol of the place, the home base for Lucy’s (and eventually her siblings’) visit to Narnia. It is at the lamppost that she learns where she is, and where she meets her first friend in Narnia. It is the light from the lamppost that she sees while she is still trying to push through the wardrobe that keeps her going instead of turning back to the spare room. And when she emerges from the branches, it is the light that she still follows to bring her into the clearing.
What light are we following? Our other two scripture texts for today draw on themes of light and darkness. From the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah writes, “There will be no gloom for those who are in anguish.” For “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.” “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.”
The gospel of John doesn’t include a nativity story, not if you’re talking about shepherds and angels and baby Jesus. But John does talk about Jesus’s origin: He is the word, who is and who was in the beginning, and is made flesh, God dwelling among us. John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Are there places in the world that seem filled with darkness? No doubt, it won’t take you long to list places and situations and circumstances where you’ve witnessed darkness. We experience it as a people, a community, a nation, a globe. And most of us know darkness in our own lives, our own families. This season can be particularly challenging, in fact, when we’re wrestling with the darkness in our lives. There are literally less hours of light, and the long nights seem to match our moods when we’re wrestling with pain, with anger, with doubt, with grief, with hopelessness. Amazingly, though, no matter how much dark there is, it only takes the tiniest bit of light to cancel the power of the darkness. Think about it. Children who are nervous because of the dark when they head to sleep are often comforted by  just a little night light. It hardly sets the room aglow. But it makes such a break in the darkness!
The light of Christ is a break in that darkness that feels like it will suffocate us, and it is never extinguished. Christ is the true light, and the darkness will not overcome it. If you can’t see the light, call out - call out to God. Call out to a friend. Call out to your pastor. Call out to someone you can trust. The darkness may seem unrelenting, but there is someone who sees the light, who can take your hand, and help you find your way again. The darkness will never overcome the light.  
This Advent, be on the lookout for doors that need opening and stepping through, doors where it seems like a light is shining on the other side, and something is luring you, calling you, drawing you through. Know that choosing that door might take you on a narrow path that is difficult to navigate and full of challenges. Sometimes you have to push through a lot of coats before you step into Narnia. Sometimes others will be skeptical that the path you feel God wants you to take leads anywhere at all. Be as bold as Lucy stepping into the wardrobe anyway, until you find your way to Narnia. And this Advent, look for places that you can shine the light in the darkness. There are a lot of people who feel like they are in darkness. But Jesus, who is the light, also says that we are the light of the world. Let your light shine. Be like Lucy, keeping her eye fixed on the lamppost. Because she did, she was able to show others the way to Narnia.
We’re spending this Advent in Narnia, friends. God is calling you to step in through the wardrobe, and follow the light. Amen.

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