Burning for Christmas
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, waiting for the coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. – 2 Peter 3:11-13 (NRSV)
As a child, I received two vastly different messages about forest fires: 1) forest fires are bad, and 2) forest fires are good.
On the one hand, Smokey the Bear told me “Only you can prevent forest fires!” And I believed him. I had the power not to play with matches anywhere, especially in the woods. If I went camping, I learned where and how to safely build, tend, and extinguish a campfire.
On the other hand, I also learned that forest fires play an important role in our ecosystem. They clear out dead wood that would take much longer to break down. Forest fires replenish the soil and provide nutrition for the next generation of trees and plants. Some species of trees actually depend on fire to germinate their seeds. Many creatures are very at home in scorched forests.
With all due respect to Smokey, 2 Peter’s vision is more attuned to the value of holy fire to clear out the dead wood, replenish the soil, and germinates seeds of the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness is at home.
The real burning question in this passage is: “What sort of person ought you to be” while we wait for the fire to be kindled: pessimistic or hopeful, grumpy or grateful? Will we see the fire as the end of the world, or the beginning of another? What in your life needs to burned up or melted down to make way for new life?
Fiery Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.