Professor Alister McGrath shares his thoughts about how Lewis perceived the festive season and what we can learn from him
Christmas is a significant time of the year for many people regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof). But what did one of the world’s most famous atheist-turned-apologists say about it? Ruth Jackson spoke to Professor Alister McGrath, a leading expert in CS Lewis, to hear his thoughts. You can hear their full interview on The CS Lewis Podcast here.
What did Christmas mean to CS Lewis?
It meant a lot. For Lewis, Christmas symbolises a time of rejoicing, a time of light in a dark world and above all, a reassurance of the reality of God. It is no accident that Lewis is able to characterise a dark world as being winter without Christmas in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
By including Father Christmas in the Narnia story, Lewis points to Christmas having a deeper significance than simply an arbitrary moment of celebration. There’s something deep and rich behind it. And the narrative of Aslan unpacks that reference.
Why was the incarnation so important for Lewis?
Lewis sees the incarnation as being historically and theologically the central theme of Christianity. But I think there’s more to it than that. Lewis thinks we need more than just being told what life is all about. We need somebody to embody that, to show us what being good looks like. And above all, we need to believe in a God who is not some kind of distant message sender, as if God just sends us a text saying: “Do this.”
It’s about somebody who enters into our world, who comes to where we are, who shows himself in human form. And for Lewis, that’s what the incarnation is all about - not a distant God, but a God who chooses to enter into the place that we inhabit and utterly transform us. It’s not about us having to clamber our way up to God, but rather God coming down to where we are, and bringing us to where God is.
Does CS Lewis talk specifically about Christmas anywhere?
I would single out a sermon he preached at a church in London towards the end of the Second World War on what the incarnation is all about. It offers us a really imaginative account of this. Lewis asks us, curiously, to imagine somebody diving into a really deep lake. It’s cold, it’s dangerous. Imagine somebody diving in, going all the way to the bottom and picking something up and then fighting their way back to the top and emerging, holding this item in their hands.
Lewis is saying the item is us. God dives into our world, it’s dangerous, it’s risky. But he does this because we matter and he wants to bring us to the top, to rescue us. And it’s very powerful. Lewis is absolutely clear that Christmas is so important in terms of the message of God entering our dark world, bringing light and bringing us back to God. Christmas is very, very significant for Lewis.
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How might Lewis suggest we use the Christmas story as a means of evangelism?
One thing Lewis might have said is the very fact that we are pausing our lives to think about this one event, even in a very tinsley and superficial way, shows there is something here, which zillions of people have found to be deeply significant. Let’s try and explain what it is. It gives you this cultural excuse to talk about what this is all about.
Lewis rejoices that Christmas is part of British culture and it gives us an excuse to retell the Christian story. There’s this very powerful hope in a dark world. I know that Lewis really took this to heart towards the final months of his life. And I think it’s something we can all take to heart because it means that we journey through this life, not on our own, but with our friends and family, but above all, with a God who came to be with us and stays with us as we journey.
This text is adapted from an episode of The CS Lewis Podcast about Christmas. To hear more from Professor Alister McGrath on this topic, click here. For more on CS Lewis and Christmas, check out David Bates speaking about this here.