Reading through Isaiah 6:1-14 in the freezing cold morning, watching the trees outside my window down under the weight of the snow.
The scene is set - Isaiah has a vision of the temple and God’s robe fills it up - fills it to overwhelming and in turn, Isaiah is overwhelmed.
God’s presence in this vision is so stark, it invades every sense - in his mouth, eyes, and nostrils - and Isaiah is overcome. Overcome.
“I’m done for,” he buries his head - hiding his eyes from the glow. “I’m a man of unclean words and living and I live with a people who are the same. I can’t stand here - I’ll disintegrate in the blinding power of the good, the holy, the clean.”
A vision filled with immeasurable mystery, haunted by gritty clarity. God is beyond, I am unclean.
The solution? A flaming hot coal, from the hand of an angel, pressed against Isaiah’s lips. His clean comes, atonement made, and we move on.
The conversation then goes to a wayward people - for 6 chapters we’ve already heard about these folks, wayward and wandering having chosen to run from their very identity and the God that breathed life and structure into them.
Isaiah will be their messenger, but the mystery continues - God says, “Go and keep speaking to them and they’ll continue to be confused. They need to walk in that confusion for a while - they need to burn for a while.”
I’ll be honest, when it comes to fire and the Bible I find myself uncomfortable. Fire is punishment, my theological upbringing reminds me. Hell. Damnation. God finally making those sinners pay.
But for the most part, fire in the Bible is different. Fire is not final, not by a long shot, but fire instead is the stopover before fruit. Before restoration. Before good and beautiful things begin to grow again. It's not punishment, it purifies.
The cones of some great pine trees won’t open, won’t spread the seed of new trees, without the blasting furnace of a forest fire.
What a mystery. What clarity.
So here is the thought: the thing that connects mystery with clarity is fire.
The mystery of God only makes sense to the stark clarity of our lives if we enter it, embrace it, and know it through fire.
Fire is uncomfortable.
Fire is often oppressive.
We shield our eyes and we hold our breath and walk through.
How can God be God when…?
What do I do with this addiction…?
What about this person in my life, who won’t…who always….?
When will this loneliness end…?
On the other side, we come to a new place.
We have new skin, bright and pink. We find a new source of light and hope. We know that God is far more unknowable than we thought and yet we’re far more accepting of that reality.
What makes sense of a mysterious God? What emerges when our clarity strikes against that mystery? A spark. A fire.
And so it is that Advent comes - a world in the clarity oppression, clear evil and destruction, feels the mystery in ounces. A small child, from the tiniest tribe born in the most out of the way town to the most unlikely parents, becomes the fire.
The fire that sears us when we see the way we have ignored injustice.
The fire that purifies our way of viewing money, sex, and power.
The fire that says, “You personally may not hate someone of another race. But do you actively live against that idea, that reality, when it shakes and rustles around you?”
Advent is clarity and mystery fused together - a God who lives with the temptations of man, who engages us where we are in our clarity, who spins tales that open our minds to the mystery that is both beyond the stars and within our very breath.
Jesus is the fire.
So we welcome Jesus, this season, to take things from us. To scrub them with coals and cinders so that when we embrace what is very clear we see that there is more mystery yet to be unraveled.
And for that I am grateful.
Be grateful for the fire.