A reflection and prayer for December 16, 2017, Day 14 of Advent
In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. (Sirach 48:1)
It is a striking coincidence that today’s first reading brings us the image of a fiery furnace, even as we celebrate on this date the memory of Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael (aka, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) the young men who — for refusing to worship or serve the idols honored by King Nebuchadnezzar — were thrown into a furnace.
The fire, we read in Daniel 3, was so heated that the men ordered to throw the three faithful Jews into the flames were themselves consumed, while the young men walked amid the heat in the company of an angel, and giving praise to God. That their faith-filled resistance was met with the support of the Lord impressed Nebuchadnezzar:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
So, Elijah’s words were like a burning furnace. He was “on fire” for God. And in today’s Gospel reading Jesus puts Elijah and John the Baptist together. John, too, was “on fire” for God.
What are we to make of all of this talk of flame, brought to us in this season of Advent, when the days are short, and we make our way to Bethlehem in the stilly night?
We’ve seen the horrific images of the enflamed hills of Southern California — huge blazes eating up everything in their paths. Early in Advent we read of the fires coming down from Heaven, which will accompany the last days.
We don’t think of fire as something friendly, or anything we want to be around.
But fire also lights the way through dark passages, and it warms us when the world is cold. Fire, then — when it is directed and focused — serves.
There is another way that fire, when it is managed, serves us: It swallows the blaze that is random and devouring. Set a purposeful, intentional fire in opposition to a wildfire, and the intentional fire will defeat the destructive one.
What is guided triumphs over what is savage.
And then, there is peace. And eventually, fine and rich new growth.
Let us not be afraid to be on fire for Christ, guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. Let us not be afraid to face the blazing crucibles that come to each and every life, at some point. If we are aflame for Christ, then when fire meets fire we will emerge victorious, fertile and enlarged. If you mean to defeat a fire, you must first ask to become a flame.
It is no frivolous thing, though. So you must ask. Do not be afraid.
Come, Lord Jesus, and kindle the weak and sometimes tremulous flames of faith I guard within me; gift me with your wisdom. At your birth, may your heralding angels, full of light, meet my Guardian Angel, who can then touch my soul with the same powerful fuel of heaven that fed the fires of Elijah and John. I ask for this flame, that I may become on fire for your truth and love, bearing it in confidence when walking amidst the flames. May my heart become as your own Sacred Heart — burning with love, yet never consumed, that I may meet the fires before me without fear. Amen.
Aleteia is bringing you reflections — Advent Light — for each day of this 2017 liturgical season. Follow the series here.