Do you ever get nostalgic? Yes, yes you do. I know we all do from time to time. There are those moments that remind us of something pleasant that happened in the past. A smell, a touch or catching a glimpse of something familiar. I remember one time when my wife and I decided to plant a little garden. We planted some tomatoes which I have not done since my mother planted tomatoes in her garden. The tomatoes themselves have a wonderful smell, but if you break a branch or leaf on the tomato branch, there is a very unique and noticeable smell. I do not know exactly how to explain it, but my mind was instantly transported to my childhood and my mother’s tomato plants. The pleasantness of the past brought up by a simple smell complemented the pleasantness of the present as I was spending time with my wife.
That’s a pleasant kind of nostalgia. But, there is another kind. Sometimes we get nostalgic because we are in a bad situation and we begin wishing things were like they were at some point in the past. We remember how things used to go, how easy they seemed, and we want that to happen again. You know that moment when you or someone you know says, “Back when I was a kid…” or “Things were simpler back when…”, stuff like that. That is what might be happening in the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Advent.
If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Mountains would quake before you
like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil.
If you would make your name known to your enemies,
the nations would tremble in your presence.
When you accomplished wonders beyond all our expectations;
when you came down, mountains quaked before you.
From ancient times,
no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any god but you
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him!
Isaiah 64:1-4 (CEB)
“If you would…” pleads the prophet recalling images of God’s action in the past. The prophet appeals for and recalls God rending the heavens, quaking mountains, burning bushes and boiling water. One does not have to think too hard to recall the familiar images from the Exodus story and the imagery of Sinai. God’s actions and name are unlike any other god, even the most ancient of gods. The God of Israel acts, “on behalf of those who wait for him” unlike any other god before. Surely God will continue acting as has happened in the past. The prophet petitions for another Exodus moment with similar pomp, circumstance, smoke, fire and plagues. If we just keep waiting patiently, God will act, just as he did in the past.
There is a problem with this kind of nostalgia. It assumes that the things that were useful, relevant and beneficial in the past are still useful, relevant and beneficial today. Do not get me wrong, God will act as promised. But, maybe God is going to act differently than in the past or in a manner we do not expect. If you read ahead in the New Testament, you will read about all sorts of times people, including the disciples, expected Jesus to act one way and he does not meet their expectations. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, picked wheat on the Sabbath, he did not call down fire from heaven on the heathen Samaritans, he talked to women, he did not stone an adulterous woman, he did not heal Lazarus, he raised Lazarus from the dead, he submitted to death on a cross at the hands of the heathen, polytheistic, Romans and was then resurrected. Even after all that, people still do not get it and a resurrected Jesus has to walk people through the Law and the Prophets in order for them to understand.
If God did not act in the manner those people expected, what makes us think God will act in our day as we might expect? What if our nostalgia for the past is clouding our vision for the new things God is doing in our time? Maybe during this season of Advent we need to wait, assume our expectations are wrong and that we do not have the answers. In this season pregnant (pun intended) with expectation and hope, take time to sit back and observe how God might be acting outside of our assumptions and expectations. Maybe God might be wanting to walk us down our own Emmaus road and turn our eyes to things we might have missed or ignored. Or, maybe we need to become people like when God called Isaiah,
“Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:9-10 (CEB)
Let’s be amazed and surprised again at what God is doing so that we might turn and be healed from potentially misguided and harmful nostalgia.
What might be an example of harmful or unnecessary nostalgia? How do you think we could be more open to be amazed and surprised in new ways God might be working? Please leave your comments below or share on your social network of choice.