O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
In this prayer, we begin with the right words, the words of adoration that seem to fit the occasion. We speak lovely, fitting, shallow, empty words when we approach the Lord. “Heavenly Father,” we say to a God who is our dictator or our servant, but never our Father. “Thank you, Lord,” we say, however bitter we may be at what the Lord has withheld. We’ve become so accustomed to lying to God–“Thy will be done”? Who really means that?
But then we stumble. It’s as though we are praying as we “ought” when our desperation breaks through with something real. We catch our breaths and repeat in earnest, “let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”
There’s a longing in that stutter that expresses so perfectly what Advent is intended to be. We are overwhelmed by God’s majesty and goodness at condescending to be with us. We know all the right words about his glory and all that–but, oh! We just want him–we need him!
As Christmas draws near, the Church invites us to ache for Christ. She reminds us of the darkness of life before the Savior came near and asks us to allow all our brokenness and emptiness and need to well up in our hearts and to cry out, “Come, Lord. Oh, please, please come!”
I’m not sure I can make sense of the longing and tenderness and desperation and awe and sorrow that I feel except to say that it’s quite the same way I feel about Aslan. When I read the Chronicles of Narnia,1 I need him. And when he comes I’m thrilled and I want to run to him and bury my hands in his mane but I know I have to hold back, because while he is entrancing, he’s also terrifying. And his voice thrills and comforts and challenges. I’m afraid to look into his eyes because I know I’ll see myself as I truly am, not as I pretend to be; but I know that while I’ll see myself I’ll also see how deeply he loves me and I’ll be able to bear it. Truly, I love Jesus so much the more because I loved Aslan first.
When I think of the coming Christ this way, I begin to believe that, like Hwin, I’d suffer anything for him.2 Like Eustace, I’d submit to any pain at his hands. Like Reepicheep, I’d go to the ends of the earth for the glory of his name. It’s just that–when I’m in Narnia–oh, I ache for him!
This is what Advent is supposed to do–just exactly what Lewis does when he tells us “Aslan’s on the move.” When you read that line–if you love these books as I do–you almost feel for your sword before you remember that you haven’t got one and you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did. You’re thrilled and terrified and ready and the only thing that matters is his coming.
I suppose it comes down to this–I would give everything to be breathed on by Aslan, to have him whisper in my ear and call me “Dear heart” as he does Lucy. Do I give everything to come near to Christ? When I let myself long for Aslan and then direct that longing to Christ, suddenly it’s all so real. Suddenly I’m past the nonsense of fancy ideas and just filled with a longing to be his. Suddenly I cry out, “Come–let nothing keep you from coming to my aid!”
You know what? Never mind. Just go read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and try to feel about Jesus the way you feel about Aslan. That’s the idea, after all.
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
(This verse seems particularly irrelevant to my ode to Aslan, but I’ve got a pattern going, so we’ll all just have to deal with it. Now go read some Lewis!)
- I gave away my copies–the ones I’d marked up. Writing this post as it deserved to be written without them (and on a time crunch) was impossible. So you get no quotations, just feelings. Add the quotations in the comments if you’re so inclined. [↩]
- “Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” [↩]