On the downhill slope of a dirt road, west of a small one-room cabin, there flows a creek whose memory winds through the minds of those who have grown to love that place. Strung between a tree with the names of many a relative carved in its bark and an ancient pine, a bridge hangs above the water and the rocks below.
My great-grandfather had a farm there once, and left the ground for his family to love as he once had. He loved that place and made it his home, and his love echoed through the lives of his children. His daughter married a man of meager means. That man became my grandfather, and the place shaped the young couple as much as their work shaped the place.
My grandfather headed to the woods after his shift at the factory and on the weekends, hauling whatever scrap lumber and used nails he could scrounge so that he could work on the cabin that stands there now. When my grandmother became ill, the place became his sanctuary and the work his restoration. For the 10 years she lay in a coma, the place was in many ways a home for my grandfather and my mother.
As he is now older and unable to do much, the upkeep of that place has fallen to me. I rebuilt that bridge last summer. My grandfather's bridge had begun to sag and creak with each crossing. The water is not deep there, and there's no real need for a bridge. Nevertheless, the place that had given me much beckoned, calling me to make an offering of thanks for the beauty and the love it has inexplicably sewn to my memory. There by that bridge, I first kissed a girl with our feet dangling in the water. There I went camping with friends when we should have been at school, dunked my cousins in the swimming hole, caught wary trout in the cool of a spring morning, and sat around a fire talking about life, love, and faith with friends. A sense of obligation and responsibility for the well-being of that place drew me there to rebuild the bridge and it draws me there still. No longer creaking and sagging, the bridge stands as a path to the woods beyond, a memorial of those who have loved it in the past, and an invitation to those who love it still.
I haven't invested in a place as I should. But I am blessed by an attachment to a place that I always can call home. Few of us have planted roots and truly invested in a place. Nevertheless, we have been shaped inevitably by some place and will remain attached to it.
All too frequently, Christians strive to achieve much and answer the call to do some great thing, but we forget to be somewhere. We forget that a place that is loved, whether a small hometown or a city on the far side of the globe, is just as legitimate a concern as a cause that we love. We frequently see attachments, subjectivity, even sentimentality as weakening and confusing; however those very things and the places they involve are often our greatest sources of strength and clarity.
Called to Make Homes
Humankind's original task was to make a home. I'm convinced that deep down in the midst of the human design, we are fundamentally home makers. Since the beginning, people have glorified God by living and being at home. Genesis 1 says God blessed the first people and commanded them to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." This speaks of our responsibility as those who live on this earth created for God's glory. Jeremiah 29:4-7 says, "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.'"
As human beings, Christians are called and created to make homes, to invest in places. Furthermore, if God made people in his image, and if Christians are to conform to the image of Christ, then we have an even greater example of the call to invest in a place and to make a home.
Last year, I had the opportunity to speak in my college's chapel. As Advent began and I worked on my talk, I was struck by the magnitude of the Incarnation and the joy of celebrating Christ's coming to earth. Isaiah 7:14 says, "?'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel'"—that is, God with us. This Christ whose birth we celebrate has the name God with us, and he made his home with us. As John 1 says, the Word "moved into the neighborhood" (The Message).
Christ's primary message during his ministry was about God's kingdom. Christ came to establish his kingdom, to build a home for the family of God. Scripture says that in the present time, the already and the not yet, the kingdom of God is among us, and Christ is King of all. Colossians 1:15-20 offers this expansive vision: "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Redemption is an act of totality. It is salvation from sin, and it is the divine and gracious renovation and restoration of a place where God once walked in the cool of the evening with the first humans at his side. If we view the work of Christ in its fullness, and if we answer the call to follow him, we must look to our investment in place, to our love for home. For Christ has invested, and has paid a greater price than can ever be imagined, so that those who believe in him may call his kingdom their home. Knowing that his kingdom is now among us and all will someday be reconciled to him, we Christians must live as members of that kingdom, as children of the King, and make ourselves at home.
Ryan Salyards is a senior philosophy major at Geneva College. After graduation he plans on writing, taking seminary classes, and working on his family's farm.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.