As we gradually create new holiday traditions without our beloved father/husband, Christmas Day saw another “second annual:” the beach bonfire. With an overcast sky and sideways winds we wondered if we should pursue it. Temps were in the 30’s, but when the children woke from naps, we decided to try.
Nelson and Klaus went to the beach an hour before sunset to stoke up the fire, and when the rest of us arrived, it was roaring, successfully fighting the cold winds to keep us warm. We took turns standing in the sweet spot out of the way of sparks and smoke but in the path of warmth, nursing cups of hot chocolate and coffee. This year we also pursued s’mores, a big hit with the small fry.
To top everything off, God painted a spectacular winter sunset in Christmas colors at just the right time. We stood around the fire appreciating our hats, coats, and the view when Skylar said, “How ‘bout we make a sand castle?” The sun had set, the temp had dropped, and none of us wanted to kneel in the wildly blowing sand to build with gloved hands, so we distracted her.
Instead the fire was our focus, and I thought of how that’s been true for millennia: fires for warming, cooking, light, and in vehicles (from cars to rockets). But fire can be tricky. We can add things to make it bigger (gasoline) or to calm it (water). Sometimes it works best to subtract things (oxygen). Whether or not we want to increase or decrease a flame depends on what we want it to do for us.
The Bible highlights fire in both the Old and New Testaments, using it as a symbol of God’s presence, the truth of which does a great deal for us. When the children of Israel traversed the desert for 40 years, he personally led them by cloaking himself in a pillar of fire, a constant, sure reminder he was there. And who could forget the fire he sent down to pulverize Elijah’s sacrifice (and the water around it) as a demonstration of his superiority.
God also used fire in judgment (consuming Sodom and Gomorrah) and in animal sacrifice (obliterating sin). He even referred to the tongue as a destructive fire, especially in tale-bearing and gossiping. And then there’s God’s predicted judgment of the earth, a fiery destruction the likes of which we’ve never known. But worst of all will be the lake of fire for the devil and those who align themselves with him.
Fire destroys, but it can also purify. We sometimes refer to people as having had a “baptism by fire” in reference to hard times, yet God labels those very things “cleansing fires” sent to purify our hearts. Just as we can boil the impurities out of contaminated water, so he refines our imperfections, preparing us to one day meet Jesus.
In that sense, turning up the heat is his expression of deep love for us.
”Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)