(I originally wrote this essay for Cay Gibson's book, Christmas Mosaic, An Illustrated Book Study for Advent and Christmas,which is a wonderful resource for books, activities and recipes to use throughout Advent and the entire Christmas season.)
I remember when I first met Him – that Child who was born in Bethlehem. I didn’t bump into Him in my childhood (though I now know He was there all along.) No, our first encounter -- the one in which I was really a participant -- came when I was older. I was a twenty-something atheist, and a Catholic friend recommended C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to me. “Pay special attention,” he suggested, “to the character of Aslan.”
My friend had a way of recommending things that dramatically changed my life, so I read the book. As urged, I “paid special attention” to Aslan, and I fell in love with him. And I fell in love with Him, though I still didn’t fully understand Who it was that I loved. But I knew I wanted to hold Aslan forever, in my arms and in my heart. Like Susan and Lucy, I wanted to bury my face in His mane, inhale His sweetness, and never let go.
A few years later, the same friend gave me Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, in which “awful old” Imogene Herdman (while playing Mary in the Christmas pageant) is walloped with the story of Jesus for the first time in her short, rough life. She can hardly bear the weight of the irony and the beauty. And as I read about little Imogene bawling her eyes out, I began to sob. I loved Imogene fiercely, and realized that I loved her because I was Imogene: I was that sad little girl who’d never known Jesus, but who one day collided headlong with the reality and power of Him. The God of the universe had bowled Imogene over and she would never be the same. Neither would I.
What changed the Herdmans, the Pevensies, and me? That child born in Bethlehem two millennia ago.
That child. It’s hard to fathom, isn’t it? A child, born in a stable, in poverty, to a virgin. A child raised by a foster-father in relative obscurity. A child who for many years was nothing more than a carpenter’s son. A child.
The Christ Child set a Herdman sobbing, made perfectly sensible little British girls follow a lion for the rest of their lives, and He crumbled my unbelief.
Such is the power of our precious Jesus, and of the books written about Him. Although I wasn’t raised on beautiful tales of our Lord, I know the compelling power of books. I want to share with my own children everything I can about Him. I want to give them the gifts of picture books, chapter books, the Bible. I want to give them storytelling, fine art and great music. I hope to introduce them, through these things, to the Source of all that is good, and true and beautiful. I pray my daughters will remember countless, sublime meetings with Him, and will yearn to inhale His sweetness, the sweetness of that baby in a manger.
That baby was born for us. He lived and died for us.
He loves us so much.
Let’s pay special attention.