By Drew Williams
For our family, there are a handful of movies that no Christmas season would be complete without watching together. One of these is the most recent film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Perhaps it is the snow, or the fact that Father Christmas makes an appearance, or that one of my daughters, as a little girl, played the part of Lucy one Christmas—maybe it’s all of these things—but whatever the reason, this movie has somehow ensconced itself as a Christmas tradition.
Lewis sets his story in 1940, and introduces us to four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who are evacuated from war-torn London and sent to live with a kind but mysterious professor in a rambling old house. One afternoon as the children are exploring, they find a room with a timeworn wardrobe. Once the others have left the room, Lucy (the youngest) opens the wardrobe doors and climbs inside, attempting to feel her way to the back of the wardrobe. But instead of the back of the wardrobe, Lucy finds herself standing in the middle of a wintry wood at nighttime with snow under her feet and snowflakes drifting through the air. She has arrived in the magical Kingdom of Narnia.
But despite its winter wonderland appeal, all is not well in this kingdom. The White Witch has captured Narnia and placed it and all its inhabitants under an icy spell that has cast the kingdom into 100 years of perpetual winter. Of the White Witch, Lucy tells her younger brother Edmund, “She is a perfectly terrible person. She calls herself the Queen of Narnia but she has no right to be Queen at all. She has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter but it never gets to Christmas.” And she says, “…she turns people into stone!” While she can’t kill them, the White Witch has the power to turn man and beast into living but lifeless statues, freezing them into a petrified comatose state.
Into this dark magic comes Aslan the Great Lion, the true King of Narnia. His very presence begins to thaw the witch’s icy grip on Narnia, melting the snow and ushering in the spring. Aslan’s presence awakens the frozen earth and stirs the great forests, and very soon spring can be seen pushing its way through the ice. But we soon learn that in order to undo the worst of the White Witch’s magic a deeper magic will be required. In humble obedience to the law of blood-justice, Aslan lays down his life in the place of Edmund, who had fallen prey to the White Witch’s wickedness. In Aslan’s death this deeper magic bursts forth. (Spoiler alert!) Aslan is raised from the dead, and that which was turned to stone is brought to new life.
Being turned to stone is the stuff of fantasy. But as an allegory of the heart, in the trials of life our hearts do become dented and worn, unable to feel what they were made to feel. That particular coldness or hardness of heart that creeps over us all as disappointment or betrayal or failure or rejection causes some small piece of us to die. We can all identify with this, to some degree. C.S. Lewis certainly did.
When he was not yet 10 years old, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was crushed by the unexpected death of his mother from cancer. Later he would say that her death left a dead place in his heart that caused him to be disillusioned about God’s nearness. When asked at age 18 what his religious views were, he called the worship of Christ and the Christian faith itself “one mythology among many.” By the time he was barely 20, having served in the British Army on the frontlines of France during World War I and begun his studies at Oxford University as a student, he was an avowed atheist.
In 1925 C.S. Lewis was appointed English Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and he tutored English Language and Literature. In the ensuing years he made two close friends on the English faculty at Magdalen College, namely Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both of these men challenged Lewis’ heart upon the reality of God—not that Lewis was seeking God. Later he would say that he didn’t really want to find Him. He wrote, “Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.” As it turned out, God was indeed seeking C. S. Lewis, and He found him.
So one night, into the coldness of our world, Jesus comes. At His birth there are signs of spring; like the birds that began their spring chorus deep in the Narnian forests, a great multitude of angels now sing over the fields of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” God’s ancient promises are spoken across the skies to shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 10-12).
And in due course, the baby would grow to become the Lion of Judah. Paul wrote, “Being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death, even on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And upon His death the most ancient of promises is fulfilled. Jesus Christ, like Lewis’ Aslan, died and rose again in triumph over the powers of sin and death. This is the deeper magic that Lewis referred to, and it is demonstrated when Aslan breathed upon the cold stone that was all that was left of Mr. Tumnus, and new life was restored. Jesus breathed upon the petrified hearts of His disciples and neither they, nor the world, was ever the same again. “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).
In all of his fantastical writing in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Lewis is pointing our cold and stony hearts to a reality that is, in Jesus Christ, truly ours. The Lord had long promised to awaken us, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
So how would we know? Look for the signs: Is there a stony place in our hearts that refuses to forgive, to be reconciled, to seek forgiveness, to let go the bitterness and pain of the past? Is there a place we return to in our hearts that immediately makes us angry? You will know when He has breathed upon that flinty corner of your heart when you know that you will be the one to soften. You will know that Jesus is breathing upon your heart when peace follows—the peace of God that transcends all human understanding. Your circumstances may not have changed one little bit and yet there is suddenly peace with God, and the strength, the openness, and the desire to seek peace with one another.
Drew Williams is senior pastor of Trinity Church in Greenwich.