I don't know what gets you choked up, but I get teary-eyed and emotional over the strangest things. I watched a few minutes of the opening ceremony for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – the part where the athletes from the various countries parade in bearing their country's flag and wearing the colors and garb of their homeland – and I found myself getting stirred up. The athletes were all wearing masks due to the coronavirus, there were no fans in the stadium that would normally hold nearly 50,000 people, and it was somewhat anticlimactic. Yet there I was getting all soupy. “What is going on?” I asked myself.
Part of it was seeing the exuberance of the athletes from Italy, one of the countries devastated by the virus. There they were. Part of it was seeing outrageously tiny countries that you've never heard of like Nauru (population approx 11,500) getting their moment in the spotlight with their two athletes.
But then I realized: it's all about glory. We all have this deep longing for glory in the pit of our being, and international competitions like the Olympics are all about glory. It's a different kind of glory to be sure, but a picture nonetheless of that glory for which we were made.
The athletes at the Olympics are all champions in their own countries. They have disciplined themselves, made sacrifices, overcome all sorts of obstacles, and trained with a focus and determination that is hard for most of us to imagine actually being worth it. Perhaps it's something they feel when they do what they do best – something of the creator's pleasure in them. Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary to China that competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics and whose story is so well-captured in the movie Chariots of Fire, said, “I believe God made me for a purpose – for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” So maybe it's something like that that drives Olympians (whether they realize what it is or not). Maybe it's the desire to perfect the gifts they have and to see how far they can be pushed and developed. Maybe it's a longing to be the best in some area, to know that you have what it takes to stand against others that are the best from their countries. Maybe it's the desire to showcase their talent on an international stage before the eyes of the world and grab just a few moments of (there it is again)... glory.
And so it will be that one Day the saints that have persevered in their faith to the end (or, as some have thought it better to phrase it, those that have been preserved by God's grace) will gather before the glorious presence of our God. The Ancient of Days will be there, as will be the glorious and victorious Lamb of God seated on His throne, together with the seven-fold Spirit. There will be the four living creatures, the cherubim and seraphim, and myriads upon myriads of angels and archangels. Full house! The saints will come from every tongue, tribe, and nation bringing their peculiar offerings, their unique cultural gifts of praise to the Lord of their salvation. They will come as those who have overcome, those who have withstood temptation and trial, those who have fought the good fight and finished the race, those who have borne witness in their day. They were emblems of God's glory in this life, and they will gather not to receive a medal of gold, silver or bronze, or a garland wreath, but to receive the crown of eternal life. They will gather not to receive the applause and praise of men, but to receive the commendation and invitation of their King: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy, the peace, the life – the glory – of your master!”