Two weekends ago, I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and found myself dumbfounded and overwhelmed. It was aesthetic overload of music, dance, video, pageantry as the nations paraded in one by one and more. The sounds, colors and images stirred in me a stunning awareness of beauty I had never experienced.
One reason for that is that an artist of unusual creative vision was behind the production. Film director Zhang Yimou had a budget of at last $100 million, an iconic site like the National Stadium (The Bird’s Nest) as a canvas on which to paint and an unlimited supply of “volunteer” drummers, dancers, cheerleaders, flag-wavers, technical personnel, logistics engineers, costume designers, fireworks-meisters and more. Another reason is that this was a glimpse of another culture, another way of viewing the world—including the influence of Buddha, Confucius and Dao on the concept of life for one-quarter of the world’s population.
It grieved me that there was no Jesus (or recognition of Christianity having any place in Chinese history and identity) but still, the opening ceremonies reminded me of the incredible thirst that human beings have for wonder and beauty—and the incredible capacity that we have to create what we imagine. No matter if it’s Beijing or Boston, London or Lexington, city or rural, boomers or millennials—human beings reflect the Creator in whose image they are made. It shows up in the cultures that we create—the unique expressions of our shared lives. And contrary to our normal pattern, we Christians don’t have to be anti-culture to be faithful Christ-followers. We can appreciate—and even applaud– what we see in other cultures
Last night, I watched the closing ceremonies of the Games—and again was stunned by the beauty and inventiveness of the production. But this time, I watched as the athletes streamed onto the floor of the stadium from all directions, instead of one at a time under multiple flags, through one entryway. The Games were over; all the pressure was off. All mixed together now, the athletes were simply having a party under their shared Olympic experience. There was laughter, dancing, waving and mugging for the television cameras—all being recorded on hundreds of mini-cams or phone cams.
That scene reminded me of a day that is coming when there will be another party. The setting will be beautiful beyond description, unlike anything we have ever experienced, with new visions striking our eyes and heavenly angelic creatures around us that have no category. The culture of heaven will be on mind-boggling display. There will be lots of laughter and maybe dancing. But there will be no mugging for the camera. All eyes will be on the One on the throne, “ a Lamb looking as if it had been slain”, and all will sing a new song: “Worthy are You…for You were slain and by Your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and tongue and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9). It will be all Jesus.
Now, put the two together. There are lots of people in our world—and a whole bunch of them in Lexington—who are uniquely, fearfully & wonderfully made with a longing hunger for beauty and wonder and incredible possessing capacity to create wonderful versions of it. The longings show up in dozens of ways in our cultures.
On the other side, there is the promise that in Jesus, there is an all-satisfying, forever beauty and wonder — enough for every soul that will trust Him.
And in-between the two stands us: Christians, Christ-followers, apprentices to Jesus. Not genius movie producers or angels, just ordinary, everyday us—enjoying, loving, living, showing & telling Jesus.
That’s why we do everything we do. Because the people of the world are priceless souls, astonishing valuable and worth all the effort to reach them. And the Savior of the world is stunning in beauty, generous with large-hearted mercy, sacrificial in love and faithful to satisfy the longing of every heart.
And when the two come together, it’s cause for a celebration that will never grow old or run out of fresh wonders to behold— forever!.