By Darrell Gwaltney
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” so begins J.R.R. Tokien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again.
In preparation for The Hobbit: An UnExpected Journey opening this weekend, I picked up my old copy of The Hobbit, curled up in a chair and began a most unexpected journey with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. All weekend I have been traveling with dwarves, avoiding trolls and goblins and looking for Gandalf to show up in the most amazing places.
I didn’t expect to encounter a little Advent along the way to the Lonely Mountain to defeat Smaug the Dragon.
By all accounts Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit will be a visual treat. While films are normally shot at 24 fps (frames per second) this movie will be at 48 fps. The effect should be an unparalleled crispness and clarity in the images which should make watching the film in 3D much more enjoyable. Somehow, he will also take this one book, a sort of prelude to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and turn it into three films that will come out over the next 18 months. These movies will be a feast for Tolkien fans.
However, before there were the wonderful Peter Jackson cinematic interpretations, there were the books that have delighted readers for almost 75 years. At the heart of all the Tolkien Middle Earth books are journeys to recover lost treasure or restore broken kingdoms.
Hobbits like the comfort of home and are not known for their adventuresome spirits. Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who takes the unexpected journey, was well respected because he never did anything unexpected. He lived in a comfortable home, enjoyed his food and community and was quite content living his everyday life.
This was until Gandalf, the white wizard, showed up at his door. Before he knew it, there were 13 dwarves in his hobbit hole eating his food, singing songs and talking of great adventures to slay a dragon and reclaim their lost gold. Within a day he was on an unexpected journey that would change him forever.
As I read this wonderful story for the child in adults everywhere, it struck me that great literature often takes its readers along on journeys and quests, and The Hobbit gathers up all the wonder of Advent in its unexpected journey.
Advent calls us to leave the comforts of ordinary life for a great adventure. The fact that we seldom think of Advent in this way speaks to how we have lost the mystery of taking a journey to discover the coming Christ. Advent provides the opportunity for us to reorient our lives and take a great adventure by living with different priorities and dreams.
Advent reminds us of the need to reclaim lost treasures in our lives. Central to the story line of The Hobbit is the dwarves’ desire to reclaim gold stolen from their ancestors by the dragon Smaug. Every year the commercialism of Christmas takes center stage and challenges our priorities. Advent reminds us to reclaim what has been taken from us by this culture and rediscover the treasure of our hearts.
Advent asks us to seek a kingdom not of this earth. Everything about the Advent story is counter cultural. A king is born of unwed parents in a manger in a backwater town of a subjugated Roman province who grows up to die a criminal’s death. Why anticipate his return?
Bilbo becomes more than he ever imagined he could want to be, the dwarves overcome life threatening adversity, and the unexpected journey changes them all. The gospels introduce us to this manger-born king and in him we see life like it has never been lived before or since.
Advent calls us to follow him, again, setting aside all that we desire for the single-minded devotion of knowing him. It is life’s greatest unexpected journey.
Read the book if you will, or go see the movie. When you do, imagine all the ways Advent asks you to take an unexpected journey to reclaim the lost treasures of your lives. Look carefully to see if it leads you to a kingdom you have been searching for all your life.