First Reading: Isaiah 9:2, 4-6

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 the yoke of their burden,
   and the bar across their shoulders,
   the rod of their oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
   and all the garments rolled in blood
   shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
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.

Today, we begin our Advent series, titled ‘Advent in Narnia.’ It’s largely based on the book The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and draws heavily on this book–Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season, by Heidi Haverkamp.

Second Reading: Luke 1:68-79
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Today, we’re diving into two stories at once in this season: the first is the story of Jesus, and the second is the book by C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

In the middle of World War II, during the bombing of London, the four Pevensie children—Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy—are sent to the country, to live with a quiet, old professor in his very large, very historic house. One day, while playing hide-and-seek, Lucy steps into an old wardrobe, pushing past the fur coats hanging inside, and soon hears snow crunching beneath her feet. Lucy is very confused to find a vast, dense forest in front of her – full of pine trees, in the dead of winter. And through the trees, she spots something even more puzzling: a light, shining brightly in the distance.

She walks for a few minutes, and finds herself staring at a lamppost, planted square in the middle of the forest. It’s not connected to anything, nor does it seem to be burning fuel of any sort. It’s just shining.

A moment later, Lucy meets one of the inhabitants of this strange world—a faun named Mr. Tumnus—who explains that this lamppost is the boundary between the land of Narnia and the wild woods of the west. In Narnia, it’s always winter but never Christmas, because the magic of the White Witch, the supposed queen, keeps Narnia frozen and overcast all year round.

We find out in another part of the story of Narnia that this lamppost that Lucy encounters grew here because it was brought from our world–a piece of an old lamppost that was once wielded as a weapon by the White Witch, and discarded in the fresh soil of a newly-created world. Aslan, the magical lion who created Narnia, lit it himself – as a promise and a reminder that he would return.

For Mr. Tumnus, it’s always winter but never Christmas—and the fear of the White Witch, who turns all of her enemies to stone—radiates through Narnia. For  Lucy, the bombing of London is still fresh in her mind, and the shadow of war looms large for her and her siblings.

In our first reading, from Isaiah, the people of ancient Israel are under siege by the powerful empires surrounding them. First, the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and finally the Persian empire—each is looking to add this little slice of territory on the Mediterranean to their own holdings.

In our second reading, the song of Zechariah from the gospel of Luke, the people of Israel are living under the thumb of the ever-powerful, ever-present Roman empire, and they must rely on the benevolence of their governors to allow them to worship their God and maintain their temple.

When Scripture speaks of darkness in this way, it’s almost never literal—it’s metaphorical. It’s a heaviness: a deep fear of losing everything you’ve ever known and being utterly powerless to stop it.

In the same way, when Scripture speaks of The Light conquering the darkness, it’s not a matter of being optimistic. The light is something entirely outside of human power or abilities – something that we do not bring into being and cannot extinguish.

Heidi Haverkamp, author of Advent in Narnia, tells us about the lamp post that Lucy encounters: “This lamppost is a living thing. No one lights it, no one extinguishes it, and it burns without fuel. The White Witch’s winter hasn’t snuffed it out. It is a boundary, but also a promise that Aslan can make broken things new and alive. It is a beacon in the face of the dark, cold spell that lies on the land.”[1]

The small lights – the lamppost, the Advent candles we light, the Christ Candle that we keep shining, every Sunday, all year round – these are tangible reminders that God has made us a promise.

We remember that promise every time we gather around this table:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

God will keep that promise.

No matter how dark the days get, no matter how fearful you feel, no matter how exhausted you are—these flames are a reminder that God can be trusted.

After all, the Wonderful Counselor taught us that loving God and our neighbors with all that we are and all that we have is the way to life.
The Mighty God drove out demons and healed illnesses and flipped the tables of greed and exclusion in the temple.
The Everlasting Father took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
It was the Prince of Peace who told us:
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

I think each of us knows what longing feels like. It’s that rock that settles into your gut when you think about what you’ve lost. It’s the tears that come when you catch yourself mulling over what should be, but isn’t. It’s the hitch in your breath when you encounter some new possibility and realize how badly you want it.

And that, my friends, is Advent. In this season, we join our hearts and our voices with the people of Israel, who waited hundreds of years and many generations for their promised savior—and with Christians around the world, we also give voice to our own longing for that same Savior’s return in glory.

The creatures of Narnia, from Tumnus the faun to the talking beavers and the occasional unicorn (yes, there are totally unicorns in Narnia) exemplify that waiting for us. Some of them have never known anything but winter, which lasted for 100 years—and yet, when Lucy and her siblings arrive, they do not hesitate to believe that these are the kings and queens of Narnia that Aslan promised them would come – and so they know that spring is coming.

In the same way, as we wait on our own King, we have our very own lamppost to guide us.

[1] Heidi Haverkamp, Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season, p. 4-5.