Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent, Day 7: Fire

On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgement and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed, over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

- Isaiah 4:2-6

What does fire do? What is its job?

We might think of fire primarily as a destroyer. It can ravage a house or a community or a large forest very quickly. We have an entire department in each of our cities and towns dedicated to preventing this sort of thing. We might burn letters so that they can never be read again. At various times in our past, we have burned human beings in order to be rid of them.

Fire destroys, yes, but in a scientific sense, its primary job is to change things from one form to another. We burn candles and wood to produce heat. We burn incense to produce a rich smell. Fire changes matter to energy.

Fire purifies. We can hold a metal object in a flame in order to kill any germs that might be living there, so as to make it safe for medical use.

But what is people's dominant image of fire in the area of religion? "Burn in hell." This is unfortunate.

Fire is an image of judgment in the Bible, but this is not judgment with the intent to destroy. Change and purification are far more accurate connotations. The destruction of "chaff" and all else that is not helpful is a part of it, but the greater metaphor is that fire clears the way to begin something new. Fire destroys what is not working so that new possibilities may begin.

Meditate on images of fire today. How might God be clearing the brush from your life in order to make room for growth? Are there parts of you that God intends to burn anyway? Understand that this burning will not destroy you but is intended for your benefit. As the hymn goes: "The flame will not hurt thee/ I only design thy dross to consume/ And thy gold to refine."

Meditate on these things, yes ... but then also make time to enjoy this crazy hit song from 1968.

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