Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas and The Last Battle

One of my absolute favorite themes in Lewis's writing is the "small made large," or the narrow doorway that opens into unimaginable joy. In other words, the great reversal. Lewis is a master artist at painting his stories into a corner, only to have found that in that corner, or through that door the story (and the world as it were) becomes larger, even larger than life. There are countless ways that Lewis develops this theme throughout his writing. No doubt, many authors have made use of this literary device, but none so skillfully as Lewis (although Tolkien perhaps matches this but in a different sort of way in Middle-earth). And yet it's more than mere rhetoric; when all is said and done, it points to the very heart of the Christian Gospel - that what looks weak and poor and lowly is in fact the very joy and eternal peace we are in need of. Here are just a few examples to illustrate what I'm talking about:

In the Magician's Nephew the pool in the wood between the worlds. It is a rather small pool and yet it is the gateway to a new world.

In Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe it is (among other examples) most clearly the wardrobe itself. On the surface it looked like a quick fix for children escaping the chastisement of the Macready. And yet once they move through the overcoats, the pine needles poked them into reality. The wardrobe was much larger on the inside than it appeared.

In The Silver Chair the narrow passage of escape from the underworld is but a hole and yet the great joy that abounds once Jill pokes her head through to a celebration of victory.

In Dawn Treader Edmund, Lucy and Eustace enter into Narnia through a painting on a wall and Aslan sends them home again through a passage in the wave, both into a world larger than their entrance, especially in the case of the painting and ensuing adventures in Narnia.

It's the same for Prince Caspian, where the children find themselves in a cave upon a sudden change of scenery as Susan's horn had been blown. Out of the cave into the light of Narnia.

And finally, in The Last Battle, there are the memorable words, "further up and further in" - words that could easily accompany the Gloria of the angels in heaven. And all of this is centered around Lewis's grand ending (or should we say beginning) of the Narnian series. It all centers around a stable. What the stable means in its totality I shall not say too much here. I do not want to spoil the ending of the book for someone who has not read it or has forgotten how it ends having read it some time ago. And yet we must say a few words. The stable is the beginning of the end of the world in The Last Battle. It leads to Narnia's version of Matthew 25, the separation of the sheep and the goats, or the true Narnians and those who refuse Aslan's grace, such as the dwarves. In the midst of all the action at the end of the book - where the pace is so well timed (like a river rushing to its meeting with the edge of a cataract) that it must be read more than once, which I am sure is part of the point. It's like the Gospel - you can never read too much Good News - it is here, at the end of the world, where Christmas comes to Narnia again (you might recall the first time it came in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe). As Tirian, Lucy, Lord Digory and the others go through the stable doors the following conversation strikes chord of that great reversal theme again:

"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling to himself, "that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places."

"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."

"Yes, said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."

Lucy was too happy to speak. Just as I am sure the shepherds were, at least until they left the side of the stable that Lucy is referring to. Then they could no longer hold back their joy. But Lucy is right. Through her we see that Lewis gets the incarnation (which reminds me of his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius - exquisite); it's not so much God-made-small as it is man-made big. One small leap for God, one giant leap for mankind. And yet there in the mystery of the Word made Flesh, the infant Jesus holds all things even as he clings to Mary's breast. The manger encompasses the Alpha and Omega. It is, for sinful men, the beginning of hope and the end of sorrow. Christ is born. The end of the world is near. Come, further up and further in to His stable, to His altar, to the Lamb sacrificed to set us free that we might see Him seated on the throne and rejoice in the Lamb laying in a stable in human flesh, for you and for the world. No matter how big sin and death seem to be, there's more than enough room in that stable for all of it; your sin, your death, are taken up by this Christ Child so that He can gather you into his stable, his storehouse, a great barn forevermore. A blessed 11th day of Christmas to you!

O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forthshineth.

He Whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.

Thy light and grace our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Immanuel, Thy birth doth quell
The power of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.

Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him—how greatly God must love thee!

Remember thou what glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.

The world may hold her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.

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