Of Advent, Christmas Trees & Rocky

December 5, 2015 § 2 Comments

Trees“The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross; otherwise we are alone again, incommunicado, our signals and symbols bounced back to us off the glassy walls of the universe.”

Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness

The other night Katherine and I saw Creed, the latest installment of the forty-year Rocky series. Without spoiling the story, it turned out to be arguably one of the top three of the series (but it would take a huge for-Rocky-fans-only conversation to explain). As we watched, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion throughout, and it dawned on me that it was because Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) is getting old, and he has been part of my entire adult life. Don’t laugh. In 1976 four of us were on a double date. We ate at a local favorite called LUMS on US-1 in Miami. LUMS was where I had my first beer with high school friend, Chris, after turning 18 (I can’t speak for Chris). On this night we planned on seeing King Kong, but dinner took too long and we ended up going to an unknown film (Rocky). And thus began the shared journey with this very down-to-earth boxer – until last night.

Okay the Christmas Tree thing. Two weeks ago I posted a pic of this year’s
tree. Another lifelong friend, Cookie, posted a comment that it was the same as last year. I was puzzled until I looked, and amazingly she was right! We basically decorated the tree exactly as we had a year ago.

And then there is Advent. Advent is about arrival, and it is accompanied by waiting and longing. We celebrate that Jesus has come, while longing for Him to return. Because the world isn’t right – all one has to do is read the headlines. The world is in torment and the fall is reflected in every violent, tragic and broken expression. So while we celebrate that Jesus has inaugurated God’s Kingdom by coming and has conquered the curse of the fall with His death, resurrection and ascension, we also anticipate that one day all Creation will be healed and heaven and earth be one.

Which leads to putting the three together…

In some sense, Advent too is always the same thing. Just as with our tree, each Christmas season is adorned with the same longing and decorated with the same songs of hope. It is supposed to be this way. As our storylines unfold the big story remains the same – and we need this. I need this. I need something that I can look to and find that it has not changed or the deep, unchanging consistency of God in my life – we all do.

So back to Rocky. You have to know that in the story he is old. Some say Rockythat Stallone should get an Academy Award for his performance (I’ve been screaming this for 40 years!). In nuanced ways, Creed, though a very unique movie, is beautifully and hauntingly similar to the first Rocky movie. And I think this is why I was emotional. Rocky got old. But the story didn’t.

So in a few weeks the ornaments will come down and get packed away until next year, one day after Thanksgiving when they are unpacked and put on a fresh tree for the new season.

It will be beautiful.

All over again.

And the story we have been invited into, though accented with fresh twists and turns, will still be about Jesus, who came and who is coming.

And this is good news, friends…


PS Friends, check out the Chapelgate website for a daily Advent Blog: https://cpcadvent.wordpress.com

Growing Old With Rocky

August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last evening we saw Sylvester Stallone’s latest movie, The Expendables 2. Along with Stallone the lead actors are in their 50’s and 60’s. It is one of a growing genre of movies intended to appeal to people who aren’t ready for their favorite action movie stars to quite yet ride off into the sunset. I love those guys, but must admit that they are getting a little wrinkled around the edges (and other not-so-good stuff in the middle too).

This week we are in Tallahassee, FL moving one of our daughters in as she begins a new college year. Our older daughter, who goes to school in Pensacola, joined us.

By way of complete transparency and in the spirit of true disclosure, Katherine thought it to be an utterly ridiculous flick (though I caught her laughing a few times). And it is only fair to divulge that a young man we have known since infancy accompanied us, and commented that you could tell that an old man wrote the story.

Can you really tell that?

Undeterred, I on the other hand, loved it. Thoroughly. It is a shoot-em-up, funny, satirical movie that incorporates a host of bygone actors who once dominated the action movie scene.

Our daughters enjoyed the action, the subtle and overt humor (references to Die Hard, The Terminator and other similar movies whose stars had roles in this one), but they only went because the old man wanted to see it, and the old-ness of the heroes and story weren’t lost on them.

In 1976, when I was 17, four of us saw the original Rocky after realizing we would be late to King Kong, the movie we had intended for our double date. I never did see that movie, but I took my best friend and two other dates to see Rocky after on three different occasions, and have since seen every sequel. Sadly, they didn’t measure up until the final installment, Rocky Balboa, which was quite good. The photo in this post is from the iconic penultimate scene in the first movie where a formerly out-of-shape, unrated boxer has been transformed into a fighting machine that is able to bound up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with ease to the tune of Gonna Fly Now, that unforgettable movie theme.

As we sat in that theater last evening, it struck me that by humoring their father in going to a movie they wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead at, our children had entered into a story that began when I was younger than they are today.

It is easy to miss this. We are not only unfinished because we aren’t yet home, but also because our own stories find some continuing measure of fulfillment as others enter into them, and we into theirs.

We weren’t created to live in isolation. From the moment of God’s pronouncement in the Garden, it has never been ‘good’ for us ‘to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). We are all designed with the need to connect.

Painful experiences and damaged relationships have a way of driving us into isolation, but the gospel is a reconciling force that draws us back towards community, into the company of others.

And while it is tempting to quarantine ourselves from the more uncomfortable and untidy elements that others write into the narrative that is our lives, we are the better when we enjoy the messiness of human contact than the sterility of seclusion.

I don’t mind saying that I have grown old with Rocky. But last night it hit me that for a few hours, together, as we watched Sylvester Stallone pretend to be able to do things no 66-year-old can actually do (well, at least this 54-year-old can’t), and as we laughed at the stars’ own self-deprecating humor, we had entered into one another’s lives.

And this strikes at the heart of what Jesus did in reconciling us to the Father. He simply entered.

What good news.

Yo, Katherine. The movie was worth it…


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