Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2015 -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
I have always loved author C.S. Lewis’ children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Those of you who know this series of seven books, and if you don’t know them, you should, those of you who know this series know that they are allegories of Jesus Christ told in the style of a youngsters medieval adventure. Three of these books have been made into well-done Hollywood films, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, and Prince Caspian. I have not heard if there are any plans to produce the remaining four books into films. I sure hope so.
In the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, travel through a magical wardrobe to the land of Narnia where they meet many talking animals. (For those of you who do not know what a “wardrobe” is, it is a large closet cabinet, used in older homes that have few built-in closets).
Shortly after they arrive in Narnia, they have dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Beaver.
The conversation at dinner is wonderful. Mr. & Mrs. Beaver tell the children all about Narnia, a magical medieval place, and, most importantly, the Beavers tell the children all about their king, Aslan. Mr. Beaver is especially eager for the children to meet Aslan. He describes Aslan “as the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.” Then Mr. Beaver sternly asks the children a rhetorical question, “Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
The Aslan of whom Mr. Beaver speaks with such respect is the central character of the “Chronicles” books and is the savior of that world, the Christ, so to speak, of Narnia. C.S. Lewis’ allegory of Jesus is crystal clear.
Lucy, the youngest of the four children, now that she knows that this king Aslan is a lion, wonders aloud if this lion is safe. Mr. Beaver’s answer is telling – “Who says anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins, 1950).
Good, but not safe. Not safe, but good. This contrast describes Aslan the Lion, King of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. It also describes the One whose birth we celebrate tonight, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Good, but not safe. Not safe, but good.
From the very beginning of His life, Christ was not safe. And the tyrants of His world understood this immediately, often sooner than believers did.
King Herod turned fearful to the core when travelers from the east, we call them the Wise Men or the Magi, when these travelers come inquiring about a newborn King of the Jews. Herod thought the title of “king” was his alone and Herod certainly was not a newborn. There must be an intruder, an interloper, some threat to his control at large in his land. So, Herod arranged a slaughter, genocide if you will, for all of the baby boys in Bethlehem. We call these the Holy Innocents and mark their day on December 28th. Fortunately, Joseph was warned by God in a dream that this slaughter was coming and fled to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus.
Herod did not find Jesus safe. Nor did the authorities who executed St. Stephen several decades later. Stephen preached Jesus as the Messiah who subverts everyone’s expectations, reigns from a cross of shame and then refuses to stay dead. This sort of talk made the authorities of Stephen’s time murderously uneasy. Like Jesus, Stephen, as he died, prayed that his killers be forgiven. We celebrate Stephen on December 26th.
Herod did not find Jesus safe. The authorities of Stephen’s time did not find Jesus safe. And, if we are honest, we also should not find Jesus safe.
It is easy, especially on Christmas Eve, to see Jesus as a gentle, helpless baby in a manger, surrounded by a living Nativity scene. And all of that is wonderfully true.
But it is also true that this Jesus is not safe and we should not find him so. Not if we realize what Jesus’ coming into our world really means. Jesus accepts the narrow, fatal space of a single human existence, an apartment, so to speak, that is cramped and mean and stifling. Jesus does this to usher us into the endless reaches of life eternal in the light of God, a daylight that can disorient, even leave us dizzy, a life that can seem dangerous to and for us, a life that Jesus will live at the cost of the cross.
This Jesus is not safe. Jesus asks for all that we have and are. Jesus offers us all that he is. That’s a deal entirely in our favor, a “steal” if you will, yet we are somehow reluctant to make, to take, this deal. Jesus points us to the cross and is the first to climb up on it. Jesus demands we live by grace, God’s unconditional love for us, then Jesus buys grace for us with his own blood.
Like Aslan, Jesus is not safe, but he is good. Pure as a newborn lamb in the spring or even a baby in a manger. Strong as a lion reigning over the savannah. Jesus’ goodness is bigger than rules and boundaries and survival. It is goodness that does not stop when barriers must be broken, when justice must flow like a flood, when death must be driven out so life can reign. Jesus personifies goodness.
Jesus’ goodness is both passionate and demanding, like lovers on their wedding night. We nail it to a cross, we stash it in a tomb, we insult it through a thousand quibbling qualifications, and even sometimes make it dull, yet Jesus’ goodness resurrects time and time again, refusing to stay dead, and interfering in our lives, our circumstances, our relationships, even our politics – in everything, past, future and present.
Jesus’ goodness places demands on us. It is insistent and incessant – forgiving before we repent, calling us higher, drawing us deeper, inviting us to a banquet of love, beckoning us to a festival of peace, embracing us in a bear hug of mercy. This goodness will not leave us alone. Jesus’ goodness will not leave us alone.
Jesus is good but not safe. Jesus calls us to lives that are good but not safe also.
Enjoy this night, this wonderful story, this Jesus, our newborn Lord and Savior who is good, but never safe.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Good, But Not Safe
Sermon forChristmas Eve
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
December 24, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California