Christ, the king

By Bill Carroll

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:11-20)

“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”

Words from a talking beaver in a children’s story. The author of the story, Clive Staples Lewis, taught at Oxford and Cambridge and was a devout layman in the Church of England. He was perhaps the twentieth century’s most popular Christian apologist. This year, the Church observed his feast day on the day after Christ the King Sunday.

The beaver, we are about to discover at this point in the story, is speaking of the coming King. In a climate of intimidation and fear, he dares to confess out loud the name of Aslan the lion, the true King and the Son of the Emperor beyond the sea. The magical world of Narnia has come under the spell of the white witch, who styles herself its queen and keeps it in bondage, so that it is always winter but never Christmas.

In the depth of this winter, the repeated refrain “Aslan is on the move” grows in power as a conspiratorial whisper of hope. Lewis goes on to describe the stirring effect these words have on the four children, who have travelled to Narnia through the wardrobe. One of them, Edmund, has already fallen under the witch’s spell:

“And now a very curious thing happened.. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again.

“It was like that now. At the name Aslan, each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”

Summer indeed! As the King and Savior draws nigh, the snow begins to melt. The long shadow over Narnia and its inhabitants, embodied in the figure of the white witch, begins to lose its fearsome power.

True, she still will have her hour. In her, all the hatred of the world will come to focus on Aslan, as he is sacrificed on the stone table. Later in the book, Aslan is bound and muzzled when hands himself over to be killed in Edmund’s place. But then, gloriously rising from the dead, he dispels the darkness once and for all.

Now, it should be obvious enough that this is no mere children’s story. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a clear allegory for the Gospel, with deep roots in the real world. The novel was written in 1949, and it begins with four English schoolchildren fleeing London during the Blitz. And it is not hard to see echoes of the Nazi occupation of much of Europe in the way in which the white queen’s winter spreads like a cancer through the land. In the middle of the darkest night of human history, Lewis suggests, Christ remains the Lord of history, the one ruler of all. All things are created through him and for him. And, on the cross, he has triumphed over evil.

What would it mean, this coming Advent season, if we made today’s collect our own, whispering it like the refrain from the story: “Aslan is on the move”? What if, in the depths of our hearts, we began to discern the distant rumblings of the coming King of Kings, the mighty Lion of the House of Judah? What if we believed with fervent hope that, even here and now, it is God’s will to restore all things in Christ? What if we asked that he would mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, were set free and brought together under his most gracious rule?

We stand, brothers and sisters, on the threshold of the Church’s season of preparation. Advent is a time to cleanse our hearts and realign them with God’s loving purpose. It’s a time to confess the deep darkness that divides and enslaves us. But unlike Lent, that other penitential season, the accent here is on the hope that God has set before us and the mighty movement of God’s sovereign mercy. For, just beyond the horizon, Christ has landed. And we have heard the rumor of an imminent liberation from all that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God.

We see this at work whenever we baptize people into Christ’s Body the Church. In the liturgy of Holy Baptism, we witness the threefold renunciation of evil and the grace-filled turning to Jesus as Savior and Lord. We also renew the promises of our own baptism. What would it mean for these promises and this grace to take root in us today?

First, it would mean that, in a world ruled by violence, we become instruments of the peace of Christ. For since he prays for his enemies–and indeed dies for them— in Christ, we’ve already been set free from the hostility that reigns within us. Already, we’ve been set free from the long, sad legacy of Cain. Though it may be hard to see in a world still at war, Jesus has broken the cycle of violence.

Second, it would mean that in a world ruled by greed, where everything seems to have its price, we become agents of a boundless generosity measured by God’s abundance and Christ’s self-giving for the life of the world. Though it may be hard to see as we are at once battered by an economy beyond our control and seduced by its glittering, contrived fantasies, all sovereignty belongs to the poor and naked Savior, who hangs suffering between two thieves. Jesus has overcome the deadly power of Mammon.

And lastly, it would mean that in a world ruled by fear, we become vessels of his burning love. Love that believes all things, hopes all things, and dares all things for Christ the King. For, even here and now, the risen Lord is with us. And he has poured the Spirit of love into our hearts, casting out all fear. Jesus and his love have in fact won the final victory over death.

As we await his coming, may this love consume us.

For, yes indeed, Christ is on the move.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

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