Nostalgia and Novelty

So this weekend, some buddies and I had a guys night. It was wild. And by wild I of course mean that we went and watched the new A-Team movie, adding it to the growing list of movies I’ve seen that is an 80’s throwback. And about halfway through the movie I started thinking about this. What about our culture makes us so receptive to this?

Have you noticed how much nostalgia is in these days? (I miss the days when it wasn’t.) From the Ford Mustang to Starsky & Hutch or Miami Vice, we have focused a lot of our energy on the past.

In John 20, after the resurrection, Jesus runs into Mary. The same Mary who he’d spent so much time with before. And then Jesus tells Mary this:

“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “

I’ve always wondered what in the world this could mean. It seems pretty strange if you think about it. Here is one of Jesus’ closest friends, one of the few who didn’t leave him when things had gotten dark. She’s stuck with him through it all. So why does Jesus pull away?

I heard a preacher say once that Jesus is trying to make a point here. Mary is trying to immediately enter back into the same old relationship. She’s wanting thing to be like they were, but they couldn’t be. Something new and unexpected was happening, and nothing would ever be the same.

Now I know it’s a bit of a stretch to go from Miami Vice to the Resurrection, but I do think that something is going on in our culture that Easter can speak a fresh word into. For some reason we are looking backward a lot. And there is something about hindsight that makes it pretty rose-colored. We can forget that things weren’t always that good back then. But the real danger is when the church does it.

N.T. Wright once said, “Far too much traditional church has consisted of too much tradition and not enough church.” And here’s what I think he means by that. Tradition is not inherently a bad thing. Anytime a church forgets the roots of the historic Christian faith, of the men and women whose shoulders they stand on, it can become very toxic. There is a danger of idolizing, or even over-privaledging, novelty. But the flip side to that, the side that has to be addressed, is that God didn’t raise us up for that time, He raised us up for this one.

It’s easy for churches to fall into thinking about the glory days. The days when God was working through them in a mighty way. And that’s understandable. It’s good to be a part of a community that has a past, that God has used to do things in the world. But when we begin to just look backward we lose sight of what God is doing right now.

Obviously, this isn’t new to churches in the 21st century. It’s not even new to Christianity. Well before Jesus’ feet hit the ground, the people of God could get into ruts. The Israelites could celebrate God’s emancipation for their great-grandfather while owning a slave themselves. The first Christians prayed for Peter to get out of jail on Passover (which celebrated the Exodus, the greatest jail break of all time) and then not believe when God actually answered their prayer.

Toward the end of Isaiah, God begins to makes some pretty outrageous promises to his people. He promises them that one day the exile will be over, that things will be better, but more than just their national exile will be over. The current state of affairs will change. It’s some of the greatest promises in the Bible, swords will be traded in for plowshares, predators and prey will be at peace, thorns and thistles will be turned into Cypresses and Pines. But here’s how God puts it:

“Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

Now this is not our cheap idea of novelty. It’s God’s way of saying the systems, the cultures that we have constructed will not stand forever. Some things will last. Some things will not. But all things will be made new.

I preached yesterday out of Hebrews 11, and in preparing that sermon I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. The author of Hebrews is telling us that these heroes of the faith, Moses and Noah and Abraham, the Flannelgraph charaters that we grew up with, are waiting on us to be made perfect. They are waiting on us.

They had their time, their moment, in God’s redemptive history. And now they are watching, cheering us on for ours. And while it would be dangerous to minimize their stories, we must remember we carry the baton now. God is doing some new, in you, now.

But I still want to see The Karate Kid.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

10 thoughts on “Nostalgia and Novelty

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  3. Jonathan, I think Jesus had a little to say about this when he spoke of trying to put new wine into old wineskins.

    I’ve referred to your post’s content as “Comfort Zone” theology. Like Jesus said, people are going to say “the old is better.” I equate it with those who who’ll use “the old paths” petition of Jeremiah 6:16 for a plea to view anything “new” with skepticism. The same prophet who encouraged the people of Judah to stand “in the old paths” was the prophet who would later suggest that God was going to do something “new” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Would the plea to abide “in the old paths” trump the entertaining of a “new covenant?” Of course not, but that’s what happens when we forgo context for strict adherence to a hermeneutic or ideaology.

    Think about this… How many first century Jews do you suppose rejected Jesus on this premise: “Jeremiah told us to walk in the old paths!” It’s conjecture, but given what I’ve grown up with, I would say it crossed the minds of more than a few.

  4. The “good old days” have never been as good as they were reputed to be. “Today” is only sweet if we are living it for others. The anticipation of “tomorrow” falls far short when it becomes reality. The only thing worthwhile is the “Behold, I am making all things new” promise of the Kingdom when every knee shall bow. Soon, LORD, soon!

  5. Douglas, good stuff. Spoken like someone who has had this conversation quite a few times. Love your point about Jeremiah…spoken like someone who’s got a grasp on the entire story, not just a few select passages.

    Josh, have you seen the new one yet? See you Friday brother!

    Carla, well said. I think the resolution comes with learning to live Fully Present. Thanks for sharing!

  6. jonathan, i enjoy reading your blog and want to ask a favor of you — or at least ask that you consider a request (that might benefit others as well).

    i’m wondering whether you might change the settings on your feed, so those of us reading your blog in an aggregators could read your full posts, rather than having to click over to your actual site? my wife and i are living and working as missionaries and development workers in rural tanzania, and because of our internet situation it’s much easier (and cheaper) to read blogs in a feed reader of some sort.

    i understand if you have a reason for publishing only a partial feed, but still thought it worth the time to ask.

    thank you for all you’re doing for the kingdom.

  7. Thanks Maynard!

    James, thanks man, that’s encouraging to know y’all are reading it over there. I’ll talk to my friends who know more about technology than me, and ask them if they know how to do this. Blessings on your ministry over there!

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