Several weeks ago my family and I had the privilege of taking a family vacation to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” at least that is what Disney fans have come to call it. It was the second time my wife, my daughters, and I have visited the theme parks. While Disney World is not every ones cup of tea, if I am honest, as far as vacation spots go, for us it has been two of the best vacations we have taken. There is something truly magical about driving through those park gates, and I think Disney World (and maybe other vacation spots that you’re family enjoys) are a picture into the life that is to come, though it’s only a shadowy glimpse, I do believe it is a view of the still to come Kingdom of God.
On our first trip to Disney several years ago, my wife observed something about being in the park that I missed. From the time we entered the resort, it seemed that everything going on outside of the Disney property simply no longer existed. There was no news on the TVs, there were no work phone calls, and though our cell phones keep our social media feeds in the palm of our hands, there is little time to explore what’s going on on facebook. Everyone is focused on joy, fun, and family. Now in the world we live in, I call that magic. Now, I said that my wife observed this fact that I missed the first time around, but I would say the fact that I missed seeing it further proves my point, I wasn’t focused on what I was missing out on, I was simply focused on living inside the Magic Kingdom.
On our most recent trip I noticed the same phenomena, though on a much grander scale. We just happened to leave for Orlando five days after Election Tuesday, as we drove out of our driveway the country was in total political turmoil. Aside from politics, there were also challenges we were facing in both our personal lives and professional lives when we left town. There was a point two days before we left town where I actually didn’t think we were going to be able to leave town. Yet, somehow when we breached the boarders of the Magic Kingdom, it all seemed to fade away, we had reached a land where all of the things of this world simply didn’t matter.
Now, notice I said that all of those things “seemed” to fade away. Just because my family paid good money to visit a theme park, it didn’t actually make political issues, family drama, and health concerns actually cease to exist. We were merely at an earthly location where it was easy to disconnect from all of those things. Maybe you have been on a trip or retreat where you’ve seen a glimpse of this as well. If you have, you know it is seeing our future life in the Kingdom of God through an incredibly cloudy mirror, yet it is still a shadow of what is to come.
Our trip wasn’t perfect, that is part of the shadowy glimpse. We had to wait in a few lines, there was difficulty with a few dinner reservations, and I did receive word while I was gone that a friend had lost his brother. There were also moments of frustration when my daughters grew tired, or my wife and I would be snippy at one another. Though we were in the Magic Kingdom, we were still on Earth. However, it was not all shadows. Over a week long period there was not one single mention of the Election or politics in the park, the weather was perfect, the masses of people surrounding us were truly kind to one another, and everything we encountered was created for our pleasure and to bring joy and happiness to children and adults alike, and thanks to the Disney dining plan, we never had to be concerned about locating anything we needed for our day.
Like all glimpse into the life to come, this vision came to an end. As I write this I am back at home, politics is still the only issue in the air, and some of the family crisis still exists. A few days after returning, I attended my friend’s brother’s funeral, and spent Thanksgiving Day taking food to families who are in need. I visited with residents at an assisted living facility, many who are in constant physical pain, and watched as people fought over towels and bed sheets on black Friday. Though I had a break from reality, our Earthly reality did not cease to exist, but those little earthly glimpses we all get should cause us to long for a day when that is no longer true. A day when we will enter into the gates of a Kingdom for all of eternity and all of this reality will never again leak through.
Consider the view of the Kingdom of God we get in Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV, emphasis added)
No matter how many vacations we book for all of our little “happiest places on earth,” or even experiences we have in the presence of God on this side of Heaven, they all pale in comparison to what John sees in our future. Another of my family’s favorite vacation destinations is Gatlinburg, TN. As I write this, news channels are covering mandatory evacuations due to catastrophic wildfires. While it is heartbreaking to see what is happening there, it is another reminder that even the most pleasurable places on earth are only fragile mirrors, they are all temporary. Even the grandest of the moves of God we experience here come to an end when we are forced to re-encounter the world, or deal with loss or pain. But John tells us of a day when that will all cease, for good. But not only will it come to an end, our Father does it one better, He makes all things new..
“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:5-7, ESV emphasis added)
We will finally be beyond the reach of death and pain, beyond the grips of politics and culture, beyond any and all human and sinful needs, and we will finally experience life with God in all of His fullness. Is there a “happier” or more “magical” place we could ever dream of? God has conceived it for us, and will bring it to fruition, and unlike our vacations here on earth we will experience it all “without payment.” Take that Walt Disney. Our price has been paid.
One of the greatest things about being at Disney, as a parent, is to watch the sheer and untainted joy that your children experience while at the park. This is what our Father is longing for each of us to experience. God longs for us to live as Jesus said in His Kingdom now, but even that is something we wrestle to see every day. This longing of our Heavenly Father will be ultimately revealed at the end of our lives and the end of all things. I must admit, though Disney is a blast, it is costly, yet so is our life in the Kingdom to come, but it is not a price we have to pay, the admission has been paid for us by Jesus Christ himself. While we remain on Earth, I hope you can catch a glimpse of the life to come, but I hope we all can cultivate more of a longing for a day when that Kingdom is our actual reality.
Grace and Peace to you.