A Word To Christmas 2019
From Bishop John Roth
“The White Witch? Who is she?” asked Lucy. “Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that.” “How awful!” said Lucy.
This is the half-human, half-goat, Mr. Tumnus introducing Lucy to the world that she entered through the wardrobe in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
What is it about Narnia that makes life under the White Witch so tragic? It is, as Mr. Tumnus says, that there is always winter and never ……… Christmas. I might have expected Mr. Tumnus to say, “always winter and never summer.” Summer the opposite of winter, right? It is, of course, true that if there is always winter there is no summer. In fact, one of the signs of Aslan’s return is that the ground begins to thaw; that is, nature moves toward summer. (Aslan is the lion in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the lion who is the Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia.) But Mr. Tumnus says, “Always winter and never Christmas.”
Christmas is the entrance of God into our world. The Incarnation. God-in-the-flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and all The Chronicles of Narnia, after years of reflection on his life previously as an atheist and his life then as a Christian. In a sense, C. S. Lewis’s atheism was his Narnia under the White Witch: always winter and never Christmas. Lewis came to Bethlehem by way of Narnia. The prodding of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien opened Lewis’s eyes to the gospel truth of Christianity that had been for some reason hidden from him before, even though from the time he was little Lewis knew all the Christian stories. Lewis was intimately familiar with the winter of life – the grind, the griefs, injustices, horrors (he fought in the trenches as a British soldier in WWI – was wounded). Like so many others, he relied on the summer side of life – parties, friends, fine dinners, comfortable couches – to make up for the winters: this is the view that “sometimes life gives you winter and other times life gives you summer, that’s the way it goes.” But then Christianity grasped him.
At the Bishop’s Colloquy in one of our synod conferences this fall, the pastors were talking about Blue Christmas services. Blue Christmas is a Christmas-time service designed specifically to glorify God and to comfort people mourning and grieving, people for whom holidays are particularly hard. Blue Christmas services are wonderful worship, because, in the midst of anxiety and sadness, there is Christmas. Christian faith does not deny grief or emptiness or injustice. Christian faith asserts the God entered into all of this in order to overcome it. Yes, there is winter; yet towering above the winter is Christmas.
Basic Christian hope is not that there are good times and bad times and we hope at least that maybe God will give us at least as many good times as bad times. No. Basic Christian hope is more real than that – more fundamental and more durable. In the middle of winter, there is Christmas. Right where life is a grind, God comes to us. Jesus is Emmanuel: “God with us.”
Blessed Christmas to you!