On the Edges
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
December 4, 2020, Words By: Jessica Louwerse, Image By: Unknown
Uncultivated. Uninhabited. Inhospitable. Neglected. Abandoned. Disfavored. Dangerous.
These words are commonly used to describe places of “wilderness.”
And yet, as I write, my eye keeps catching the edge of a vast wilderness, carved out by the sprawl of our city. Snow-capped purple mountains with jagged peaks pierce the skyline. Shimmering, frigid, silty ocean water with extreme and merciless tidal flows surround us. There is immense beauty in these dangerous spaces.
Occasionally, a majestic bull moose with a rack that could cradle both my children silently plods out of the forest trees that frame the southern edge of the global microcosm of the trailer park I call home. The wilderness creeps in even as we encroach on the wilderness. The line between inhabited and uninhabited is thin. The cultivated and uncultivated are close enough to touch. Wilderness on the edges.
Anchorage is perhaps unique in its proximity to literal wilderness, but the thin spaces between privileged and marginalized—the intermingling of symbolic wilderness with urban center—is something every city holds in common. A trailer park pocketed inside a wealthy part of the city, providing diversity to otherwise all white schools. Contested downtown spaces in which those experiencing homelessness congregate on the manicured lawns of the city hall, courthouses, and central park. Youth making homes inside abandoned buildings, pilfered tents, and junked out cars one street removed from bustling shopping malls, elaborate children’s parks, and shiny new car lots. Wilderness infiltrating the city margins.
And it is out of the wilderness, on the edges of the city and inside the margins, that something quite astonishing and unexpected happens at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. A wild man, perhaps even perceived as dangerous by some standards, comes forth, heralding the arrival of our Savior. In response, the countryside and city are vacated as people journey to the edges to embrace the message of this wild man we know as John the Baptist. A man who announces the Messiah from outside of what’s considered cultivated, habitable, and favored.
What hope springs new when we consider that the fertile ground from which our salvation comes forth does not come from the city center, from the arena of the privileged, but from the edges of the wilderness? What longing is fulfilled when our Savior beckons to us from the space of the neglected, the abandoned, the disfavored? What does it mean for us, and especially for every person living in the wildernesses of our cities, when the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, isn’t established inside a religious temple but “outside,” within life on the margins? May you see the good news, the Messiah’s hope, in the wilderness spaces of your own lives, of the lives you serve, and throughout the margins of your city.