December 17, 2020
A Message from Dane
Recently I drove out to the Bragg Creek area and pulled my sled and chainsaw (and my permit!) into the woods to cut some firewood. I’ve enjoyed doing this for some time, for the peace and quiet of the forest in winter—when the chainsaw is not chugging—and for the provision of one of my favorite activities, campfires. Though not known as a great fuel, I like cutting poplar for a number of reasons: it doesn’t give you splinters, it has beautiful grains, when the wood is dry the smoke is clear, and once the coals get hot blue and white fingers of flame flicker in the embers.
In a world of technological wonders, it is almost hard to believe that fire is natural. It has an incredible power and assumes so many different forms. From a single flame, to a forest ablaze, to the mysteries of the heavenly bodies that dot our skies, fire is as ancient as anything we can imagine and the world would be inconceivable without it. Fire has been important in the traditions of the Church for this reason. I think of altar candles, incense and the fire we often kindle in the early hours of the Easter Vigil.
In the Scriptures, fire is one of the great images employed to represent to God. I am inclined to think that it is more than just a useful metaphor. It is a creative, powerful, sometimes dangerous, life giving force that is the closest material reality to Spirit that we can see. As we know, the Spirit of Pentecost descended in tongues of flame and rested on the heads of God’s anointed. It represented a threshold between heaven and earth, where the visible and the invisible meet.
I have always loved Christmas Eve, especially that part of the service where the lights are dimmed, and we light candles while singing Silent Night (that is, at least, how we did it growing it). There is something about that light shining in the darkness that brings us closer to the Christmas miracle, to the star burning over Bethlehem and to the Christ child asleep in the manger. The dwindling light of December seems almost essential to this mystery, though I suppose people in southern climates can enjoy Christmas as well. It’s possible wherever we are this Christmas, the world may feel a bit darker than normal. But the words of Psalm 139, adapted in the great Taizé hymn, La Ténèbre, come to mind: “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight; the deepest night is clear as the day light.”
This Advent and Christmas will be unlike any other. This Christmas Eve, though we will not be together, we can still light a candle in our homes and share in worship together online. It is my prayer this season that our hearts will be warmed and illuminated by the fire of God’s love that burns for us and all creation. And I cannot help but recommend lighting an actual fire and gathering with our household around a light that shines in the darkness.