Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 9:18-10:4, 2 Peter 2:10b-16, Matthew 3:1-12
Fire is a prominent theme in today’s scriptures. It is equated with the coming of God twice in Psalm 18, twice in the Isaiah reading, and three times by John the Baptist in our passage from Matthew’s gospel. Fire is an apt metaphor: it terrifies us, yet sustains us; it destroys us, yet we exist because of flames ignited billions of years ago. Maybe you’ve heard someone compare fire to a living thing. While not technically true, fire is primal, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Under some conditions, attempting to contain fire may cause more harm than good. Decades of fire prevention in the Southwest contributed to many of the raging firestorms appearing in our present day.
Isaiah’s people thought they had contained the fire of the Lord, that they had reduced it to meaningless rites and empty sacrifices; they were a people ignoring the smoldering coal in their midst, willfully ignorant of the inevitable destruction such negligence would bring upon them. When people shrugged off the warnings of John the Baptist because they considered being Jewish – children of Abraham – all the righteousness they needed, John told them the Lord could raise His people from stones and burn them like chaff separated from the wheat.
But fire also heals. It cleanses. It is absolutely essential to the reproductive cycle of some plants. Humans couldn’t live in many of the places we do without it.
God, like fire, is a force we simultaneously fear, respect, require, flee, draw near, and can’t safely touch. The gospel though, is a lit torch. We pass it to others when we see them shivering in the cold and dark. We gather around it in community. We share its flame so others may bear it where we do not go. In our darker moments, we forget why it was gifted to us and march with it against our enemies. We must always remember the torch we bear is a pale reflection of its source, and shun the pride that tells us we own or control it.
This Advent we wait for the spark in a dark, dark world.
Comfort: God is always larger than we can imagine, but never so large that we are small to God.
Challenge: Meditate on a candle, a campfire, or some other open flame. What do you see?
Prayer: All powerful Lord, I will seek Jesus as the light in the darkness. Amen.
Discussion: How does thinking of God as a fire make you feel?
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