We learned how to be at home even as we stayed at home in 2020. We planted zinnias and baked bread from scratch and walked the countryside and waved to our neighbors, and to me, it’s all felt very Shire-like. If my friends weren’t losing their grandparents or my church members slipping out of fellowship, I wouldn’t trade the way this year has made us more like hobbits.
But that’s the looming juxtaposition. And it’s left me like Bilbo, trying to reconcile my Baggins bloodline with that pesky, restless Tookishness. The Baggins says, “Isn’t this nice? And isn’t home good? And aren’t neighbors kind and life at a slow walk like fresh air to your soul?” The Old Took shakes his head: “Adventure, war, blood, sickness, darkness, and death are out there and will swallow you unless you leave your hole to face them.”
So when I say 2020 has made us more like hobbits, I’m thinking of hobbits like Bilbo or Frodo, who’ve seen past the Shire. We know the world isn’t all green hillsides and dragon fireworks, but that there are real dragons who crush towns. There are goblins, orcs, wraiths, wolves, and wargs. This year has put callouses on our hands from wielding our little swords. It’s made us more aware of the war than we’ve ever been before.
But even as we ward off trolls along the path, we’re thinking about our comfortable chair by the fire, the kettle singing for tea. And not for the last time.
God made us to love him, so he made us to love home. We’ve been trying to get back to Eden since we left because it was the place of God’s full and flowing presence— the Home he created us for. And so as roads go ever on, we long to look at last on meadows green, on the trees and hills our hearts have known.
Home is on our minds and in our bones (Ecc. 3:11).
That’s the “not-yet-ness” of it all. We’re caught somewhere between the old Eden and New, and while we know we’re just “waiting for the Day in the shadows of the Dawn,”[i] the shadows are long. I think that’s why Jesus tells us to “Keep your lamps burning” in Luke 12:35. It isn’t enough to light the wick, set it in the window, and flee to the hills. The servant who acted that way in Jesus’ story was thrown out as a cheater on the Bridegroom (Luke 12:46).
But the word keep rings of a faithful, constant burning; a wife at the window, peering into the night for her husband, leaving the door unlatched and letting the candles sink in their wax.
Bilbo and Frodo’s Tookish blood led them to the shores of Middle Earth, where they adventured further than any Baggins (or Took) could have dreamt. And while the end of their story glimmered, it didn’t comfort me the way Samwise’s did, because Sam’s story looked more like mine.
Sam Gamgee stood on the brink of eternity but couldn’t go, and so he turned from the sunlit West into the darkening East to plod the path back to Bywater. His bones creaked inside him as he ascended the Hill, where Rosie had cooked a meal and lit the lamps. For now, he was home, but it wasn’t the same Shire he’d left. Frodo sailed to the Gray Havens because he realized Bag End could never be the home it once had been. He’d seen too much, been wounded too deeply. So he sailed the High Sea to a place of complete healing and rest.
Frodo’s was the Home of now, but Sam’s of the not yet.
And Tolkien’s ending lit a candle in my heart because I’m on the shore like Sam and can hear the waves pounding and know the swift sunrise isn’t mine to see just yet. Yet there is firelight here, and there is hope for the morning– if only I’ll wait.
At the beginning of Revelation, Jesus takes aside his Bride and tells her what to do until the Wedding Day. He commands his church to patiently, faithfully endure. His Bride is broken, he knows, but it isn’t strength and beauty he’s looking for. Jesus is coming for us, and he’s looking to see a light in the window.
Is a lamp still burning? Is someone still up? Will she be there to open the door to me?
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
Are we not the waiting wife of a kind and worthy Groom, who even now is returning to sweep us into his arms— our truest Home?
“I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. …My beloved put his hand to the latch and my heart was thrilled within me. (Song of Solomon 5:2, 4)
Like Sam, Bilbo had waited a long time to see his houselights again. Hobbits love home, and adventuring can only last so long. But like Sam, Bilbo returned a different hobbit than when he’d left.
“Roads go ever on,” he sang quietly as he crossed back into the Shire after a very Tookish adventure, and Gandalf looked at him.
“My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit
And we are not the people we were at the dawn of 2020. Even kept inside our neighborhoods, where we’ve planted, baked, and walked, we’ve seen too much— which is why we must take hold of Jesus’ first command in Luke 12:35: “Stay dressed for action.” Maybe we’re a maiden at the window, but we haven’t yet put on our wedding gown. No, we have a Kingdom to defend that requires armor, the finest mithril.
So then, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” describes the juxtaposition inside every one of Tolkien’s hobbit protagonists and inside you and me. It’s the experience of bloodied battlefields married to an ache for home’s warmth. It’s where the not-yet-ness of Mordor’s darkness meets the now of white shores, and beyond them, a far, green country.
Because nowness and not-yet-ness overlap and intermingle. God made us out of dust, but he also breathed eternity down our lungs. We’re a walking marriage of the sacred and the profane— the eternal and the ordinary. We’re Bagginses with the blood of Tooks who’ve been to Mordor and back again.
We’re hobbits, trembling in our armor, slashing at the shadows— but we’re also waiting at the window with a lamp in our hand, ready to throw wide the door and trade this mithril for a wedding gown.
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Revelation 19:7-8).