"Is that your fire alarm?"
“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord (II)"
We are in Advent. The familiar Advent Wreath is back in place. Last Sunday we lit the Candle of Hope, which burning by itself reminds us that Advent, as a Season of Hope. It is a hope that can only be understood as hope not centered in human endeavor, in what we can do or accomplish, but in God’s never-ending goodness.
The light of the candle of hope shines brightly, reminding us of the fire of God’s love in our hearts. A love most excelling than all loves, a Love, with capital “L” that burns away fears, worries, and the unwarranted concerns that somehow begin to pile up in our lives.
“I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the One coming after me is more powerful than I am--I am not even worthy to carry his sandals. But He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Fire. I’m not an expert but I think that I would be safe to say that perhaps one of the most – if not the most important development in the history of humankind was harnessing the power of fire.
For our early ancestors, fire was nothing new. However, the ability to start a new fire at will, free from nature’s irregularity – or the need to “travel” the fire from one place to another, was a turning point.
From cooking and heating, from lighting to manufacturing, and even for warfare, the power of fire reaches from the early days of our ancestors to our present day. Today, there is almost nothing that we wear, we eat, or we use that has not been touched by fire in one way or another.
On the other hand, fire when unleashed creates its own weather system, outruns cars and even planes destroying everything laying it its way, without any regrets or preferences.
So, from early on we teach our children not to play with matches, and we make sure that candles and pots on the stove are not left unguarded.
But beyond the industrial and social uses, fire has also a place in the world of philosophy and religion. In our own Judeo-Christian tradition, fire played and continues to play an important role.
The Hebrews were guided by a “Pillar of Fire” in their way out of slavery. Fire was understood as implying the presence of God in the Temple. Fire marks the beginning and end of Shabbat with the lighting of candles, and it is used to purify objects, making that which is forbidden “kosher” or fit for ritual use.
Quite naturally, light was understood as a stand in for fire. In Hannukah, the Feast of the Dedication – which was attended by Jesus, (John 10) celebrated the re-dedication of the temple rebuilt after the return of the Exile. Without consecrated oil, nevertheless, God made an amazing provision of oil so that the temple lights could be kept lit. So, until this day, Hannukah is also celebrated as the Festival of Lights.
Jesus himself described himself as Light of the World, and He proclaimed his intention to set up the world in fire. In its own way, fire represents both renewal and destruction, purification and transformation.
Let me suggest that in our Christian traditional understanding, other than fire being associated with light, fire is most often associated with the fire of trials and tribulations. Or with the fire of the end of times and the place where most people will suffer horribly for all the sins of their lives – except us, of course.
So, I wonder, what is your take about John’s message? John said about Jesus that He “would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” I guess that most of us would say “Amen” to this Holy Spirit thing – whatever that may mean – but we would rather take a pass to this “fire” thing. Right?
Fire. Even if it is fire from heaven, it is scary, isn’t it? In Pentecost we love to decorate the church with red representing the flames of fire that appeared over the apostles. But let’s just leave the flames of fire for decoration and for Sunday School classes. No playing with fire, right?
And in a way it is right. The Scripture tells us that God is like a fire that burns everything to the ground (Hebrews 13:29). So, it goes without saying that messing around with God is not advisable.
But fire has also two distinct qualities which, I would suggest, is what John had in mind when he said, “Jesus will baptize you in Spirit and fire.”
In Scripture, fire is often used figuratively. Given the context, I guess that what John had in mind was fire as source of light and about its melting power.
Jesus, the Scripture tells us, was full of the Spirit, and when He went to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukah, He said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life,” (John 8:12).
Jesus was not only the Light of the World leading to life, but under the light of Christ, God’s loving purposes for humankind become clearly visible. “God loves us with eternal love.” “Good has plans for being good and doing good for us, plans for our well-being,” not only in the “Sweet by and by,” but for the here and now.
The light of Jesus clearly shows the path that leads to life. It is under the light of Christ that we find the wisdom that we need to live in peace with ourselves, with our neighbor, and with God.
So being baptized with the Spirit and in fire is not only being submerged as it were into the deep currents of God’s love, but it is transforming us into living lights to shine the light of Jesus so that others may follow us on the road that leads unto life. Which is what we do each Sunday here at St David’s. And it is what each one of us is called to do – to turn on the light of Christ in our lives.
So, every day whether we are at work or at home, of whenever we have the opportunity to cheer up the aching soul of a friend, or with a word of care and advise to those who need to hear about God’s love, the light of Jesus will shine to dispel the shadows of fear, despair, or dejection.
Now, it may sound silly, but fire is fire. What I am trying to say whether one burns coal or hardwood or scraps there is no separate flame for the lump of coal or the log. Even if you were to pour gas on the fire, the fire will burn hotter, but still keeps its “fireness,” its quality of being fire. The color of flames may change, or the fire may burn hotter, or may slowly smolder with the welcoming fragrance of spruce, yet still is fire.
Being baptized with the Spirit and fire is what makes us one in Christ. It doesn’t matter where you were born or for whom did you vote for, whether one loves to worship with smoke and bells or would rather have a solid plain vanilla protestant service, anyway the fire of God turns us into one.
Being baptized with the Spirit and fire brings us closer to the heart of One who desires for us to be “One, as I and my Father are one.” It was such fire that brought a bunch of disparate disciples into the unity of what from that day became to be known as the Church.
Our theme for this our Advent theme is, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” It is an invitation not only to walk along, but as we journey with Jesus, to allow the Holy Spirit to work on us. It is an invitation to walk along Jesus, the Light of the World, so that we, in turn, may become lights in our own places and in our own generation.
As we walk along, we will soon realize that we are not alone, but we are just one among the “cloud of witnesses” burning with the fire of the Spirit of Love. A fire that will melt away our differences and will make us one with each other, and one in Jesus.
So, my friends, let us continue walking together – lighting and burning with love, grace, hope, mercy, and joy. Amen.