What Mr. Tumnus Can Teach Us About Advent

After stumbling into the snowy wood of Narnia through the doors of a magical wardrobe, the first person Lucy met in that mysterious new country was a faun named Mr. Tumnus. Her presence startled him as much as his did her, so much so that he dropped the brown-paper parcels he was carrying. Knowing nothing of this strange new land, Lucy observed that, “What with the parcels and the snow it looked just as if he had been doing his Christmas shopping.” Lucy would soon learn, however, what all who love the story already know, that Narnia is under the spell of a cruel witch, who makes it always winter and never Christmas. These parcels, therefore, could not have been Christmas gifts as Lucy had assumed. She was mistaken. Or was she? Could it be that her assumption, no less than her very presence in Narnia, foreshadows the coming reality, a reality for which all Narnia waited with eager longing? Perhaps her presence and her perception of the faun’s parcels are designed to reveal that winter would soon end and Christmas soon come.

That Tumnus is the one carrying these would-be Christmas presents is no small detail. For he carries in his arms that which portends the liberation of Narnia, yet he himself is in the employ of the one who keeps Narnia in bondage to decay. He intends to hand the innocent Lucy over to the one who would destroy her, the false queen who will stop at nothing to keep her power and exploit the land and its people. As the story begins Tumnus is a coward and treacherous. And he knows it. And so the fact that this two-faced faun is carrying in his arms the packages which not only introduce the tension that carries the story but also the potential for its resolution is even more pronounced. He carries with him the sign of hope and freedom, even though he is himself part of the problem. 
He is part of the problem because he has not yet learned to wait. To be sure, he dreams of the day when the snow will melt and spring arrive, but in the meantime he has hedged his bets as he colludes with the Witch to save his hide. Like her, he has chosen to do what is necessary to preserve himself without regard to who might be hurt along the way. He is not waiting. He has capitulated.  
What then can Mr. Tumnus teach us of Advent? He teaches us first that waiting for the King born on Christmas morn is no passive thing. To the contrary, the waiting we do in the season of Advent is active resistance to the powers that rage against the Christ child, as we proclaim the gospel truth that there is another king, namely Jesus. For Tumnus, waiting for Aslan in holiness would have meant suffering, which is precisely what he feared. You only have to read his account to Lucy of what will happen if he releases her. His horns cut off; his beard plucked out; he will be turned to stone. You see, Mr. Tumnus understands that sometimes waiting means dying. 
Second, Tumnus reveals that no one is ever without hope, if, of course, they are willing to repent. In the end the faun chooses to release Lucy, to turn from evil in service to the Witch and face the grim reality that he will suffer for doing right. In this way Tumnus is being conformed to the image of the one who will soon suffer on the cold hard slab of a stone table. And because Tumnus is repentant, the Lion who overcomes even death, will soon breath on him and give him back the life that he gave up for Lucy’s sake. He has learned the meaning of Advent. He has learned to wait. 

Here’s my favorite moment in Narnia. What’s yours?

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are full of remarkable passages. In fact, there are so many amazing moments that it can be difficult to narrow it down to a single favorite. But if I had to choose today, I would go with a scene near the end of The Magician’s Nephew. The scene comes just after Aslan has sung Narnia into existence and after the boy Digory has managed to allow the evil Queen Jadis into the newly created world. As Digory is preparing for a task that will protect Narnia from the wicked Queen, he gathers the courage to ask Aslan to cure his deathly ill mother. Here’s the passage as Lewis tells it:

“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself. 

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.” 

I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now that’s my favorite moment in Narnia. What’s yours?

Rough Magic: Paul and the Law in Narnian Perspective

Ever have the experience of reading a book only to have the author turn a phrase so well that it unexpectedly sheds new light on some matter on which you were not, at the moment, reflecting? That very thing happened to me not long ago while reading C.S. LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Let me say that I typically expect Lewis to push me to think about God, creation, redemption, and everything else in fresh ways. However, I wasn’t expecting him to hit me with a sentence that illumined my perspective on Paul and the law, a topic to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of thinking, some writing, and no little preaching. Here’s what happened.
I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia this year, and have just recently completed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which recounts the adventures had by Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, Eustance, and the Dawn Treader’s crew as they sail eastward in hopes of finding the World’s End and, perhaps, even Aslan’s country. Along the way they stop off at a number of islands, one of which is inhabited by a race of invisible people who come to be known as the Dufflepuds. Ruled by the magician Coriakin, they are invisible because they put themselves under a spell with a view to hiding their self-perceived ugliness put on them by Coriakin’s magic. The spell can only be broken if the appropriate spell is read by a little girl from the magician’s book which is located upstairs in his house. The Dufflepuds are a curious people and spend most of their words agreeing with their chief, though they are none too bright and tend to say remarkably silly (and humorous) things like, “You’ll find the water powerful wet.” Despite their foolishness, they threaten to kill Lucy and her friends if she doesn’t go into the magician’s house and read the spell to make them visible. Lucy obliges and while in the house she not only encounters Coriakin but the great lion Aslan as well. 
That brings us to the point. As Lucy visits with Aslan and Coriakin, she learns that the lion put the magician on the island to rule over the Dufflepuds. As the conversation proceeds, Aslan asks Coriakin whether he ever grows weary of ruling his foolish subjects. The magician responds that he does not; in fact, he finds himself rather fond of them despite their stupidity. It was the next thing said by Coriakin that sent shock waves through my thinking on Paul and the law. “Sometimes, perhaps, I am a little impatient,” he said, “waiting for the day they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.” I had not been thinking of the apostle to the Gentiles before, but I couldn’t escape him after reading that. Suddenly, the letter to the Galatians occupied my thoughts, not least the words of chapter 3:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our child-minder (παιδαγωγός) until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian (23-25).

It wasn’t so much that Lewis’ words brought a dramatic change to my understanding of Paul’s view of the law, and I have no idea whether Lewis himself had Paul in mind when he wrote this chapter in Dawn Treader. Nevertheless, the narrative caused me to think afresh on an old problem in the study of the apostle.

Lewis’ language of “rough magic” is provocative. It seems almost irreverent to speak of the Law of Moses in this way, but the phrase captures both the tension and trajectory in Paul that the law is suitable for its purposes in governing the people of God but was always intended to be surpassed by something better. For Paul, the law was intended to be a temporary ruler over the people of God until they could come to maturity. It was never intended to be the fullest and most glorious expression of God’s mind for his people. That is not to disparage the law, only to understand it within its proper redemptive context.

Lewis provides an analogy by describing the hope that the Dufflepuds will move from being ruled by rough magic to wisdom; they are not where they need to be. Likewise, Paul saw the law functioning as a governor for a people who were not where they needed to be. God always intended for his people to come to the place (or be brought to the place) where they no longer needed a child-minder, The end of the law is maturity in Christ. The law should be studied and valued for the ways it can lead us into the heart of God, but we must understand that it wasn’t intended to be the last word. It had a particular function with regard to a particular people for a particular time, and, having fulfilled it’s particular role, it has been set aside. It was good and important, but it was also rough and unpolished. It was given to an imprudent people just rescued from slavery in a pagan nation, a people who did not know God. But with the advent of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit, the children of God are come to maturity and can be ruled by wisdom instead of rough law.

As is often the case, Lewis’ fiction is a breath of fresh air as I reflect on scripture. May we all be ruled by the wisdom of God in Christ and the Spirit, and may we never be known as Dufflepuds.