By guest blogger, Wes Cate
A few days ago, I took a walk through the woods just north of our home in Noblesville, Indiana. There’s a short trail maintained by the city at the intersection of Hague Road and State Road 38.
As I walked, I thought to myself what is God doing here, in these particular woods at the intersection of Hague Road and State Road 38?
Those particular woods have their own story that has played out slowly over time. Each tree has a story - often told by the girth of their trunks or the strange bends they take toward the sky. And even then, each leaf on those trees has a particular story of growth, adherence to the twig it clings to, resource allocation from the roots, its own efficiency in converting light to sugar. The interweaving narratives of a single and even very small patch of woods is astounding.
For me though, who was a first time visitor to those woods, I was a tourist. There’s a story there that I cannot possibly discern by just passing through. I can know and sense a story there, but I can’t give you any of its textures. It occurred to me, then, that a place only gives up its stories when you choose to dwell in that place with its particularities.
Immanuel means God has come to dwell with us. And Jesus’ story is a story of particularities - unimpressive, unremarkable particularities. God’s Light of the World came to a particular woman, in a particular family, in a particular place, with particular neighbors, at a particular time. In the concrete human realities of Jesus’ family and neighborhood, there was nothing of remark or fame – quite the opposite. God showed up in a maddeningly ordinary place.
If what’s unremarkable can carry the potential of Advent then why not my family, your family, my grocery store, your grocery story, my woods, your woods?
Drive through any small Indiana town – Arcadia, Sheridan, Cicero, Strawtown, Noblesville – and you’ll be wildly unimpressed. For tourists, these places are simply streets to drive through on the way to somewhere else more interesting. But for those who dwell in these towns, there are deep and long interweaving narratives. The small, old cemetery tells part of the story; the regulars at Erika’s Breakfast spot tells part of the story; the bait shop just outside of the downtown square tells part of the story. All of these are unremarkable, common, ordinary. And yet, it is among these that God has chosen to dwell. He has come to stay in my interweaving, particular narratives.
The significance of Advent becomes all the more astonishing when I consider all the unremarkable particularities, because that means that Advent can happen to me, too. The Light of the World can explode outward from a void of unremarkable grist.
Much of the social malady we experience in our world right now, I believe, is because we refuse to dwell - here with each other in our place, this place. Maybe the disruption of 2020 was a year-long reminder for us to dim the siren song of creating a better world out there, and to come home to dwell in our particular place with our particular people.
T.S. Elliott comes to mind here:
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
If we dwell, perhaps we can discover that the Light of the World–Immanuel–is dwelling among us already - daring us even, to come and be among Him who is already here.
Unremarkably, Wes Cate