The sign at the entrance of town read: "Celebration - the destination your soul has been searching for." I was immediately captivated. It took but a few moments to experience its meaning. Homes with the charm of early 1900's architecture along wide, tree-lined streets, colorful flower beds and neatly manicured yards, paved alleys in the rear with detached garages and sanitation access, front porches, wide sidewalks for strolling. Warm emotions surfaced in me, stirred by memories from somewhere in my past. On down the residential street, around a corner onto Market Street and the village center with its quaint shops and eateries and small businesses, each proportioned and signed to blend with the gas-lighted streetscape, apartments above the storefronts. While Peggy went into an antique doll shop, I sat down on a comfortable oak sidewalk bench, enjoying a soft concerto from speakers hidden somewhere overhead, watching the flow of chattering, casually dressed shoppers interspersed with men in business attire. A sporadic, unhurried stream of late model automobiles moved past on the brick-paved street, turning the corner at the lakefront gazebo where summer evening musicals were performed. At the other end of Market was white-spired Community Presbyterian Church, standing modestly, picturesquely, on a prominent corner. Indeed, Celebration did stir something in my soul - a nostalgic longing, a desire to return to a more innocent, less complicated time. Like an old movie or song from the distant past, this town evoked inner feelings that surprised me with their potency. But this was no movie set, no tourist attraction with false facades and actors who took off their costumes and went home at night. Celebration was a real, live town with homeowners and flourishing businesses and schools and a hospital. For its 6,000 permanent residents, it was home. A special kind of home, its developers advertised. Secure, predictable, friendly, near enough to an international airport and big city Orlando to stay conveniently connected, separate enough to ensure the low-stress pace of small town life.
I mused over the calendar of village events that a smiling merchant handed me. Semi-annual sidewalk sale; Great American Pie Festival; vintage car show; smooth jazz under the stars; Fall Festival with falling leaves, live entertainment and hayrides; Christmas festivities with nightly snowfalls, caroling and pictures with Santa. The images that paraded through my mind as I scanned Market Street were filled with laughing children throwing hands-full of crisp fall leaves into the air, families having lakeside picnics on the emerald-green grass around the gazebo, grandparents admiring classic antique cars and recounting fond memories of the ones they used to drive. Who would not want to grow up, raise their children or retire in this ideal town?
"…the destination your soul has been searching for." There was indeed something deeply appealing about this place. Celebration had recaptured the best of our past and recreated it in contemporary reality. But is this a home-coming or a seduction, I pondered as I leaned back on the bench. Certainly it touched a longing for the security of childhood when my world was full of wonder and the cares of life centered around getting a two-wheeler bicycle and negotiating a later bedtime hour. And it appealed to another powerful desire - freedom from a world of relentless change, distressing lawlessness, and unending challenges to long-held values. Yes, my soul yearns for security and peace, I admitted to myself.
But is the destination my soul has been searching for to be discovered in the past? Did a simpler time ever really exist? Was the close community where "everyone knew everyone" and "we never locked our doors at night" really as stress-free as we remember? Did not world wars and political corruption and abusive relationships disrupt the peace of these "more wholesome and innocent times" as well? The enticing siren-song of the past, I feared, may be a mirage, a treasured deception fashioned from fragments of memories that never really were.
I smiled as it dawned on me, a little sad perhaps but mostly satisfied with the realization. The destination my soul has been searching for is not a town from the past but a city of the future. The ideal home is not a retreat from reality but a new reality. In this city authentic, lasting peace is assured. In fact, that is its name: New Jeru-salem - city of peace. The plan, painted in vivid word-pictures by several historic visionaries (the most prominent being John in his inspired work Revelations), combines many of the same attractive features found in Celebration - lush foliage, pure water ways, spacious homes, safe streets, aesthetic beauty, heavenly music. Unlike Celebration, curiously, the city of the future has no space allocated for churches. No need. The presence of the Divine will be pervasive. And quite unlike Celebration, residents of every nation, ethnicity, tongue and hue will live side by side in harmony and mutual appreciation. Festivities here will reflect the rich cultural diversity and best creativity of the divine family. Fears, tears, loss, fatigue, anxieties - all things of the past. Who would not want to live in this city?
"I'm going to build a special house just for you," John recorded in his memoirs, a promise made to him (and to us) by the Divine Son. I think I'll pass on Celebration.