As we gather to listen for God’s word to us this morning, I want to remind us that in this season of Advent, we’re exploring two stories at the same time: the story of Jesus, and the story of the four Pevensie children and their adventures in a magical land called Narnia, as told in C.S. Lewis’ novel The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. So before we hear from Scripture, I want to take a moment to catch us up on both stories.
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. There, she finds a lamppost and meets 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. Lucy spends the day with Mr. Tumnus, having tea and almost getting kidnapped, before she returns to the wardrobe and finds herself back in the spare room.
Our Scripture reading for this morning, on the other hand, is from a book we hear from very, very rarely: Zephaniah, one of the Hebrew Bible’s minor prophets. In this passage, God is speaking to the people of Israel in exile – decades after their homes, their cities, and the Temple were overrun by the Babylonians. They were, for the most part, scattered to the far ends of that empire, though a faithful remnant still gathered in prayer, in worship, and in study.
It’s no accident, by the way, that many of the Scripture lessons we hear during the Advent season are originally addressed to Israel in exile. This is the period in the history of God’s people where their longing for a Savior is felt most deeply, and expressed most clearly. And although these texts weren’t written with Jesus specifically in mind, we can see God’s purposes filtering back through the ages—the ripples of Jesus’ presence being felt long before he arrived in that manger.
Let’s listen for the word of the Lord together.
Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.
When Lucy, the youngest Pevensie, returns from her first trip to Narnia, she tumbles out of the wardrobe and runs to tell her siblings about her adventures, thinking she’s been gone for hours—and they don’t believe her. For them, no time at all has passed. Even after Edmund later travels to Narnia (where he meets the White Witch and agrees to betray his siblings in exchange for power and some candy), he lies and tells Peter and Susan that Lucy has made it all up.
Eventually, after quite a bit of insisting that Narnia is not real, the two oldest siblings go to the professor whose home they’re staying in, worried that Lucy is breaking with reality. But rather than scolding Lucy, he tells the older children that perhaps their own sense of what’s possible needs to expand.
Their conversation goes like this:
“Logic!” said the professor half to himself.
“Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You already know she does not tell lies, and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”
C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia series, would later apply this same logic to Jesus. He argues that Jesus is an historical figure—we can verify that with other historical records—so even for skeptics, his existence isn’t the question. The question then becomes: is Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or truly the Lord of All Creation?
When we encounter for the first time the story of the eternal God taking on flesh, being born in a barn as a vulnerable baby, then growing up to walk among us – perhaps it seems as far-fetched as the existence of Narnia. But then again, perhaps our imaginations need some work.
The beauty of Narnia is that it helps us to see the story of Christmas and encounter the story of Christ in a fresh way, without so much of the cultural and theological baggage we carry around.
And I have to wonder if that’s what Jesus means when he says we ought to have faith like children—not that we should just automatically believe whatever we’re told, because goodness knows very few children actually do that—but to come to the story of God with wonder and curiosity, not assuming we already know what’s possible and what isn’t.
An entire generation of the people of Israel grew up in exile – they had only ever known Babylon as their home. I wonder how easily they believed that God was with them. I wonder how quickly they trusted that their shame—the shame of being defeated and serving another king—would turn to praise for the One True King. I wonder when they finally let go of their fear of disaster coming for them again. I wonder, too, how they heard the promise that God would rejoice over them with gladness, and renew them in God’s love.
Did they receive these promises like children, with wonder and hope?
Were they skeptical, hiding behind the guise of “let’s be realistic, here”?
Did they straight-up scoff, and say ‘impossible!’
Ever since I started thinking about this part of our series, months and months ago, I’ve had these lyrics from the Cinderella musical stuck in my head:
“Such fol-de-rol and fiddle-dee-dee of course is impossible.
But the world is full of zanies and fools,
who don’t believe in sensible rules,
and won’t believe what sensible people say,
and because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes
keep building up impossible hopes,
impossible things are happening every day.”
Lucy Pevensie is, at first, considered an absolute fool. There obviously can’t be a portal to a magical world called Narnia hiding in the upstairs wardrobe in a strange old house in the country, right?
Her siblings don’t think she’s quite so foolish when they find themselves hiding from the housekeeper in that same wardrobe, and turn around to see a snowy forest filled with talking beavers and centaurs and all sorts of mythical creatures, and later meet Aslan—the Creator and True King of Narnia—who happens to be a lion.
Impossible things happen to the Pevensie children in Narnia.
And impossible things happen to the people of Israel, even as they wait for the promised Savior.
They do indeed return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
They survive the rise and fall of massive empires.
And a few hundred years after this part of Zephaniah is proclaimed for the first time, a young woman is visited by the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she will bear a son who will save the world—despite the fact that she has not fulfilled the prerequisites for that to be physically possible.
And then, the God who took on flesh and bone and moved in next door is not born in a palace, or greeted with celebrations in the street. Rather, he’s placed in a manger, celebrated by shepherds and angels together, and greeted by the resident governor with threats of violence. And from there, it only gets more impossible.
So what do we do, in the face of this impossible story?
We become like children. In particular, each of the Pevensie children has something to teach us about what it looks like to encounter a world that just doesn’t make much sense unless you live into it.
Lucy, the Valiant, is brave, curious, and bold. She’s the youngest, but when she finds a magical world in a wardrobe, she doesn’t turn around and run—she jumps straight in. And when the four siblings get caught up in the dramatic battles of that world, she is the first to demand that they stay to help.
Edmund, the second youngest, is the Skeptic. His first encounter in Narnia shows us the consequences of greed and an insatiable thirst for power—but as the story goes on, he winds up reminding us of our capacity for repentance and the hope for change.
Susan is the stereotype of The Mom Friend – prepared, caring, and practical. Her first instinct when she encounters the cold forest in Narnia, once she’s gotten over the shock of it, is to grab the fur coats from the wardrobe to keep her siblings warm.
Peter, the oldest, is the Guardian. He is protective, sharp and observant, and throughout the story, he’s mostly concerned for the well-being of the others. He also has a keen sense of justice, and although at first his gut tells him to get back home as quickly as possible, by the time the final battle comes around, he’s absolutely unwilling to leave the creatures of Narnia to fend for themselves.
Do you see a glimpse of your own heart, your own instincts, in one of the Pevensies? I wonder how, in Advent and beyond, you can continue to cultivate that curiosity and boldness, that caring, that hope for change, that sense of justice and loyalty.
Many years after Jesus lived and died and rose, and many years before the world of Narnia came to be, the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:22-25)
Because the Lord our God is in our midst,
impossible things are happening every day.
 Lewis, C.S., The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 52.