“Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.” - Sirach 48:1
In today's readings we hear about the prophet Elijah and as Sirach says in the first reading, "like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah," and the whirlwind of fire that took him up in the chariot with the fiery horses. It's a familiar story from the Old Testament, but have you ever stopped to think about why the image of fire? Heaven, as opposed to hell, is not often portrayed as a fiery place, but many times in scripture, including here with Elijah, we hear about heaven being described with terms related to fire, or a furnace. Even the Seraphim angels name means "fiery ones." So why fire?
In the winter, one of my favorite things to do is sit outside around the fire pit at night. I could spend hours, adding logs to the pile, just staring at the flames dancing. Looking at the fire I might imagine what exactly people saw with Elijah and his fiery chariot, or what did it look like when the Holy Spirit anointed the disciples at Pentecost "like tongues of flame". What is it about God's coming presence to take Elijah away, or the burning bush with Moses, or anointing the disciples with the Spirit that led the scripture writers to describe it in terms of fire? There really is something mystical about fire - how it moves; how it slowly consumes the logs while emitting heat, light, and smoke; how it is visible yet at the same time lacks substance. Or how fire can be productive and destructive at the same time, like in Zechariah, God tells us we will be as Gold tested in the refiner's fire. The impurities will burn away, leaving nothing but the purest gold. There is so much that can be said about fire. I think that's why often sitting around my fire pit there is not much discussion, just a handful of friends watching an organic tapestry of light, heat, and smoke unfurl before us.
As our progression into winter continues, the sun dips below the western horizon earlier and earlier, leaving us in the dark and cold to wait on the morning. Our churches face east because we look for the dawn to remind us of the resurrected Christ - that after the darkness comes light. It reminds me of the ending of one of my favorite poems, "God's Grandeur" by GM Hopkins:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Let us pray,
Loving God, ignite a fire in our hearts for you. Let us feel the warmth of your loving embrace in our everyday life. Inspire us to preach your word at all time and with the Holy Spirit to find the path you are leading us on
This reflection was written by Josh Schaffner
Josh Schaffner is the president of Verso Ministries and in charge of the Indianapolis headquarters for Verso! He is a proud husband and father who also loves providing the ministry of pilgrimage to all who seek it.