A reflection on the readings for Advent 3-B: Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 126; 1 Thess. 5: 12-28; John 1: 6-8, 19-28 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
Apparently, the Syracuse Stage production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tries to downplay the fact that the author, C.S. Lewis, wrote these rollicking good children’s books – The Chronicles of Narnia -- as both adventure stories AND as Christian allegories.
If you haven’t seen the play or any number of film versions, or read the books, I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the story to say that Aslan, the lion who is a figure, or representation, of Christ, is willing to die at the hand of the White Witch so that the life of one of the other characters is spared. This is to fulfill what the White Witch and Aslan call “the deep magic,” a spell, or incantation, or promise, written in to the essence of Narnia at its beginning. But Aslan, killed on a great stone table, comes back to life. It turns out that the Witch does not know of a deeper magic still, an older magic, that turns everything around:
Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.
The death of Aslan, the innocent, causes the table to crack, and “death itself starts working backward.”
The promise of new life comes from the depths of that Deep Magic, comes from the stillness and darkness before the dawn of time.
Lewis got that idea of the Deep Magic from the Gospel of John, from the verses which come before the passage we read today. The words are familiar, and we’ll read them again during the Christmas season:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John …
In the words of Aslan, John the Baptist comes from that time of the Deeper Magic, from the time before the creation of the world, from the beginning of the Word itself.
One way to think of Advent is as the time we remember that we still have time. It’s the time we remember the way the world was created to be. Things may have gone awry since that first creation, but God is promising to renew it all: God will create a new heavens and a new earth. The ancient city of Jerusalem will be a joy, and its people a delight.
This passage from Isaiah was written after the people of Israel had returned to Jerusalem. For generations, they had been punished by God and exiled to Babylon. They were punished for not following God’s commandments to live righteously, to care for the poor and stranger, to worship God alone. Then God forgave them, gave them another chance, let them go back to Jerusalem. But here was the challenge: were they going back to “the good old days,” with the kind of life choices that took them down the path to the way of living God did NOT like? Or this time, living in this new Jerusalem, did they realize that to live the good life God wanted them to live meant doing things a different way?
The prophet Isaiah came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who still remembered the hard times in Babylon, but were hoping things could get back to the way they used to be. Listen, he said. Two things: it is only God who creates, and in God’s own time. And, you, people of God, have to hold up your half of the bargain. Remember the commandments: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The prophet John the Baptist came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who were living under the hard times and oppression of the Roman Empire, an economic, political and social system where the decisions made in faraway places wreaked havoc in their daily lives. People who needed hope. People who had forgotten some of those essential commandments, to love God and to love neighbor as oneself. People living in darkness, tripping down crooked paths. Repent. Turn from those ways, for the kingdom of heaven is about to get here. You know what God wants you to do. You know how God wants you to live. Do it. Now is the time.
Advent is for two kinds of people. It’s for people who need to realize that God’s commandments include social justice – who haven’t quite worked out that loving God and loving neighbor are inseparable. Advent reminds those people that it’s time to get going in the good works department.
And Advent is for people who care deeply about justice – who know the world can and should be a better place – who devote their time and resources to doing good works – who hear these promises for a new heaven and a new earth and then wake up day after day in the same spot. Advent reminds those people that God alone creates, and that the new heavens and the new earth are on their way.
It’s the message from the Deep Magic from before the beginning of time. Repent, and get ready. Hold on, and hope. Things are about to turn around.