This Advent, a handful of Christian Reformed congregations are using C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to help them worship and think deeply about what it means to wait for the coming of Christ.
In this story, four siblings are sent during World War II to live in the countryside with an eccentric professor. On a rainy day, the children explore the house, and the youngest, Lucy, finds and enters a huge wardrobe during a game of hide and seek. Brushing aside fur coats, she suddenly sees, through falling snow, a lamppost lighting the way into the strange and mystical land of Narnia.
“This story has exceptional characters — four children, who become kings and queens; mythical creatures; a villain White Witch; an appearance by Father Christmas; and of course the great lion, Aslan,” said Katie Roelofs, who helps coordinate worship for two Washington, D.C., area churches — the CRC of Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring (Md.) CRC.
“These characters each have their distinct role in the story, but through each plot line and vignette, they help to tell the greater story.”
Lewis himself said that he wrote the book with the death and resurrection of Christ in mind, using Aslan, the lion, who dies and comes back to life, as the symbol of Jesus.
Besides the churches in Washington, D.C., congregations in Michigan and Ontario are also using the book this Advent season and at Christmas.
They were inspired to weave elements of the story into worship by two CRC pastors — Heidi De Jonge of Westside Fellowship CRC in Kingston, Ont., and Vicki Cok of Waterloo (Ont.) CRC — who used the book during Advent last year. Also helpful was Heidi Haverkamp’s devotional series Advent in Narnia.
Throughout this year, the pastors of all these churches, who are friends, have talked about how they would incorporate the book into worship services.
“Each of our churches has a very different context,” said Cindy de Jong, pastor of Lakeside Church in Ludington, Mich.
“My church is very small, with fewer resources than some bigger churches. Yet we had some good responses to helping prepare the environment (with a banner and other elements) and we had good attendance at our Narnia night.
“Each Sunday I’m using Scripture and excerpts from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in worship and preaching.”
On the first Sunday of Advent, said Roelofs in Washington, D.C., a member at one of the churches recited: “This morning, we begin Advent with a service of lessons and carols, which is also a way to tell the broader story of redemption, from creation, fall, prophecy, fulfillment, and re-creation.”
In lighting the first Advent candle, they emphasized the light shining in the darkness.
“We long for the light that Jesus brings into the world, a light that guides us, a light that comforts us, a light that dispels the shadows of night,” said the church member.
As Advent has unfolded, the churches have looked at how the people of Narnia, led by Aslan, rise up to overturn the curse of the White Witch, who has declared a 100-year winter in Narnia, without Christmas, and who, at one point, kills Aslan with a stone knife.
Quoting from Haverkamp's devotional, a church member read: “In Narnia, the time of ‘always winter and never Christmas’ has ended. Christmas in Narnia is serious business; it’s a sign of victory against the White Witch.
“Father Christmas is less like Santa Claus than John the Baptist, sharing the news that a new time has come in which to get ready because the rightful King is on his way!” (Haverkamp, 52).
At Second CRC in Grand Haven, Mich., members held a “Night in Narnia” on Nov. 26 for which church members decked the fellowship hall with Christmas trees, fake snow, a lamppost, maps of Narnia, and a large wardrobe built a few years ago by a teacher at the local Christian school.
“Our local library got us 20 copies of the book, and people have been lending their own copies around,” said Laura de Jong, pastor of the church.
“I've heard of a lot of people who are re-reading the book or reading it to their kids, and who have been just delighted to rediscover the world of Narnia and some of the themes they missed when reading the book as a kid.”
Working with those themes has created a little sense, said de Jong, “of holy whimsy” this Advent season.
She added, “It's been fun for me to explore themes and to craft sermons around those themes. There's so much in the book that it can be hard to settle on just one thing. But I've been amazed, as sermons and services come together, how it all hangs together.”
Last Sunday, the liturgy focused on John the Baptist and his call to repentance, and the Narnia story featured one of the children, Edmund, eating Turkish Delight candy, and she contrasted that with Jesus’ saying, "I am the bread of life."
“So all these themes sort of weave together, even if you don't plan on it,” said de Jong.
Jane Porter, pastor of First CRC in Orillia, Ont., said she thinks some of the church members were skeptical, worrying that interweaving the story of Narnia with the gospel story would lose the true meaning of Christ’s coming.
“But I think that we’re all beginning to see that there are many different metaphors and stories that point us to Christ,” she said.
Besides the devotional guide by Heidi Haverkamp, she has used The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams in crafting her sermon series.
As part of their preparation in Orillia, they painted a big billboard that hung by the roadside and, said Porter, “We launched our sermon series with a Narnia Night — showing the Disney movie Chronicles of Narnia.”
They also walked through a large wardrobe full of coats and into the sanctuary, filled with trees and snow and a glowing lamppost.
They even had a Mr. Tumnus, a small faun who is a character in the book, greeting people as they entered the church, and a White Witch to entice the group to try real Turkish Delight at the intermission.
“It has been lots of fun and food for thought,” said Porter.