This Christmas, I'm getting a long-expected present: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As a fan of the original Lord of the Rings movies (to say nothing of the novels), I'm excited to see what Jackson and company make of this earlier J.R.R. Tolkien novel, which in many ways sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings.
If the trailer is any indication, I don't think I'll be disappointed.
There are sweeping visuals, resonating music, an exciting new cast of characters and tantalizing glimpses of old Lord of the Rings figures like Gollum and Gandalf. Yet after the second and third time I watched it (because yes, I am that big of a fan), I started noticing something else. Pay attention to the serious expression on Bofur's face when he begins singing that song, almost as if something is being awoken deep within him. Notice the look of awe in Bilbo's eye when he gazes at his sword.
Throughout the trailer, Bilbo is being called out of his comfortable life in the Shire and thrown into a deeper, richer and more dangerous world. Gandalf promises him that if he goes on this adventure, he will be irrevocably changed by it. Yet Gandalf clearly thinks this is just what Bilbo should do. Tolkien makes this choice even more explicit in the book, where he describes Bilbo as having two strains within him, coming from the two sides of his family tree: a Baggins strain, perfectly happy with a comfortable, secure life in the Shire; and a Took strain that longs to have an adventure. It's this Tookish side that makes him, on a whim, volunteer to run off with the dwarves.
This tension between comfort and adventure isn't a new one for Christians.
Should Bilbo have stayed in the Shire? He certainly would have been more comfortable. Ultimately, though, I think his adventures outside the Shire awaken something in Bilbo, and he is better for it. As the quest goes on he becomes stronger, braver, wiser. By the end, he’s able to do things he wouldn't have dreamed of before his adventures.
This tension between comfort and adventure isn't a new one for Christians. At funerals we often speak of the person who's died being in "a better place." In fact, some of us spend so much time wishing for Christ's return that we fail to recognize the way our own adventures give us opportunities to grow into the people God designed us to become. In many ways, this is understandable, even unavoidable. When your food supplies are running low and there is "little left for supper, and less for breakfast," it's easy to long to be home again.
But Bilbo moves beyond this longing. He lives in the situations he finds himself and sees the beauty he never would have encountered in the Shire. How can we as Christians find this balance? Is there a way to love God and look forward to Christ's return, without also missing out on the experiences of the adventure we’re on now?