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Nostalgia

“Nostalgia – a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time”

I have been feeling very anxious this week, and it was when the YMCA pool increased my feeling of panic that I began to put my finger on it. The Y pool has such happy associations for me – summer time, relaxed playing with my kids and friends, pool parties thrown by the Y with a DJ that kids love and parents’ pretend not to but dance in the water anyway and a place that even as babies my children could enjoy because of the sloping entrance and fountains. Knowing it will close soon and that we really haven’t been much this summer evoked that heightened sense of anxiety this morning. Ridiculous until I connected the dots…

Our next home will be inspected next week, and barring any major structural issues, we will make it ready to move in as early as December. But making it ready to move in has been the source of this week’s anxiety. It’s not simply about choosing paint colors and counter tops, but about taking a place that smells like death and is filled with trash and other disconcerting items and without really changing any of the structure, making it a home. I know it can be done, but it is hard to believe on this side of it. That is when I realized at the heart of my anxiety, I am longing for my concept of “home” – a place like the Y pool, filled with happy memories, secure familiarity and reliable comfort. And the Gospel has two particular things to tell me about this nostalgia: sometimes memories can be distorted and the good memories are merely tastes of what God promises is coming.

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Ex. 14:11-13

The funny thing about nostalgia is that it can distort my own personal history. The Israelites had moaned and groaned and begged and pleaded to be set free from the Egyptians, until they faced the uncertainty of the desert. The absolute misery of their lives in Egypt was faint in their memories even as they glamorized their existence there in contrast with the new challenges before them. When I begin to panic about the Y closing, remembering it only as the place of nostalgia, I forget that often the water is too cold, or that my children have gotten bored, or that we had to change table locations once because I was getting so mauled by mosquitoes. I also neglect to consider that we didn’t go as much because we had other pools where we did just as much swimming this summer, and made new memories there. But the past always feels safer than the unknown ahead.

When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they lost the Shalom of intimacy with God, of harmony with their environment and each other. But, it had not in fact been perfect shalom because it was able to be broken. The rest of redemptive history is not trying to get back to that shadow of shalom but is moving toward something better, an unbreakable shalom. Moses wasn’t leading his people from a place compatible with their nostalgia but from captivity into freedom. He was picturing for all of history the better Moses of whom the first was only a shadow. Jesus would come not simply to move people from physical captivity to a physical new land, but from sin to righteousness, from broken shalom to perfect shalom.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Rev. 21:1-5

The movement in all of redemptive history is of God doing a new thing. The old was not “wrong”, as if a rough draft, but it was not complete. Each step pointed to the person and work of Jesus, gave a taste of this ultimately perfected creation and all of the relationships within, but was not it yet. Those tastes gave a hint about where things were headed, the memories served to bolster the weary in the desert even as movement felt slow, and the promise served to remind God’s people not to stop yet because greater things, fuller realities are ahead.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 2 Cor. 3:7-11

I am anxious about this next “home” and the unknown of what it is like to sleep there and spend weekends there and return from trips there, and am challenged by the apparent ugliness, stench and filth of the house as it is today. But what if even in such a seemingly trivial experience, God shows me more of what His redemptive work looks like, how He takes the dead and makes them live? What if I begin to experience that the dwelling of God is with men, and not only at one particular address, nor only in the nostalgia of the past? My positive associations are only associations, but not the events themselves. To cling to the various settings where my family has laughed or danced or cuddled or played is to miss the point. The walls, or pool or vacation was not perfect, but the One who is with us always, never leaving nor forsaking us, the provider of all good gifts…He is perfect and invites me to cling to Him alone as He becomes my home. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:13

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