The Grand Miracle of Christmas

One of my favorite characters in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles has to be Lucy. She is the first one to discover the world beyond the wardrobe, and she really never gets over it. In the last story, The Last Battle, she shares this line, “Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” This is such an appropriate way to think about the humble birth of Jesus.

Christmas plays a powerful and pivotal role in making sense of Narnia, where under the Witch’s curse it was “always winter and never Christmas.” When the prophecy of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve is fulfilled, through the entrance of the Pevensie children in the magical world, the curse begins to turn inside out. This reversal is marked by a visit from none other than Father Christmas.

J.R.R. Tolkien, a faithful friend of Lewis’s, thought the whole Santa scene was unfortunate. But then again, Tolkien was reluctant to write on the Incarnation. “The incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write,” Tokien once penned.

But looking at the appearance of Father Christmas through the lens of Lewis’s use of the Incarnation as the key to understand the world, it fits quite nicely. As one Lewis scholar pointed out to me, Father Christmas is the only person in Narnia who needs no introduction to the children. If we were looking for a Trinity parallel in the Lewis’s tale, this would fit the bill. Narnia has the “Emperor Beyond the Sea,” a Father figure. Then there’s the powerful Christ-like figure in Aslan. And then we get Father Christmas who shows up to signify a new age and bring the children gifts.

One of my favorite passages from Lewis on the Incarnation is in his book Miracles. In his chapter “The Grand Miracle,” published later as an essay, Lewis describes the birth of Christ as the way we are able to make sense of the whole of reality. It is like the missing piece of a novel, he says, that, once found, brings the entire plot together.

 Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, here’s an excerpt from Lewis and a sketch video: 

“But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.

Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all well-established Christian miracles are part of it. That they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just like every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point in space of time, so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation.

Now, if one asks whether that central grand miracle in Christianity is itself probable or improbable, of course, quite clearly you cannot be applying Hume’s kind of probability. You cannot mean a probability based on statistics according to which the more often a thing has happened, the more likely it is to happen again (the more often you get indigestion from eating a certain food, the more probable it is, if you eat it again, that you will again have indigestion).

Certainly the Incarnation cannot be probable in that sense. It is of its very nature to have happened only once. But then it is of the very nature of the history of this world to have happened only once; and if the Incarnation happened at all, it is the central chapter of that history. It is improbable in the same way in which the whole of nature is improbable, because it is only there once, and will happen only once. So one must apply to it a quite different kind of standard. I think we are rather in this position.

Supposing you had before you a manuscript of some great work, either a symphony or a novel. There then comes to you a person, saying, ‘Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the center of the whole work.’ The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reacted on the whole of the rest of the work.

If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic. On the other hand, if it failed to do that, then, however attractive it was in itself, you would reject it.”