I watched “Prince Caspian”, the 2nd of the Narnia Films, this week, and was very glad that most people do NOT realise that Aslan the lion is meant to represent Jesus. Why? Because if they did, they would get a very distorted view of Jesus. Aslan is not like Jesus at all. This great Lion is a distant remote figure, as different from all the Narnian creatures as he is from the humans. To truly be God as Jesus is God, all the Narnians that Aslan is meant to save would have to be lions like him! But, even more important, we never hear of Aslan being born. To be truly like Jesus, Aslan would have to begin life as a tiny helpless lion cub. Instead, he always appears as a big grown-up lion just floating in from somewhere at critical moments to do a bit of roaring and make everything right. So different from Jesus our Lord!
Perhaps God chose to work first through the Jews because they were such a down to earth people with a totally different vision of God from the pagans around them. Whilst the pagans carved beautiful and enormous images of their various gods like Jupiter and Apollo and Venus and Aphrodite, and concocted all sorts of marvellous stories about them, the Jews refused to think of God like that. In one sense that made God more mysterious, a power that could not be shown or met in statues or pictures ; and yet this God was still close to them, closer than any statue. As God says through Ezekiel the prophet:- “I will put my Spirit within you (36:27)..and later “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Yes, somehow, these great Jewish visionaries, the prophets, knew that their mysterious God would one day be one with them in a way beyond words. And so, rooted in this great Jewish hope, we heard St Paul say the same thing today in our 2nd reading (Eph 3:2-6) “By a revelation I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit.”
So the wise men, in our well-known Gospel story today (Matt 2:1-12) do not find this new vision of God in their own country, nor even in Jerusalem, but in a small village called Bethlehem. And the God they pay homage to is simply “a child with his mother”. And the gifts they bring do not make the baby Jesus any less human, but are very human gifts each with its own meaning. Gold for a King, Myrrh the ointment for the Dead, and Frankincense the sign of God’s presence.
Now, if you saw the TV presentation of the Nativity on the days leading up to Christmas, you would have seen a rather intriguing presentation of these wise men ( or Magi as they are more correctly called) In the TV version, they had their traditional names, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior, that we do not find in the Bible, and further Melchior was portrayed as a very old man who had the vision that encouraged the others to make this crazy hard journey from the East. Thus we saw them inspired and encouraged by this old man to travel from Babylonia to Judea to find this tiny helpless baby who is, despite all appearances, the Saviour of the World.
This is the time of year when we mainly concentrate on the child Jesus and his young parents, finding God in that remarkable yet very ordinary event, a new baby, but today as we celebrate the Epiphany, we are asked to think also of those much older people, the wise men from the East, who had the vision to see who this baby really was. These men are pagans who would have had the pagan images of God all around them, and yet they are inspired somehow to find God in this new and startling way, and to have the faith to make the journey however hard it might be. It’s a reminder to us, isn’t it, to keep on our own journey to God even when times get hard. I almost thought in the TV version that old Melchior might not make it back home, but die, there and then, content to have seen God with his own eyes.
So, to go back to films I have seen this year – No sorry, but Narnia may be great fun but as a way of showing people Jesus it is not good at all. What film might I recommend then? Any ideas? Well forgive me those of you who do not watch these modern science-fiction films, but one film that might inspire people to think of Jesus correctly is Avatar! Yes, Avatar. For the whole point of the film is that the man cannot remain an Avatar, an impersonation of another being, he has to become one of those other beings, and in this way, and only in this way, he is able to gain their trust and save them from the destruction that threatens them. And that, of course, is what our Christian faith is all about.