Building a Fire and Preparing for Theophany

Fr Gregory Scratch | 16 January 2021

I have always been challenged when it comes to building fires. They always burn themselves up in a flash because they are mainly fueled by flammable paper;  never catch because I have packed everything tightly with no room for oxygen to feed the fire;  or worse produce a huge cloud of smoke that chokes everyone. Indeed the process  of building a fire is something that I (and many others) overthink and work on; along with many other elements in my life. Especially my life as a Christian.

And this is something to consider as we prepare ourselves for the blessed feast of the Theophany of our Lord. His baptism in the Jordan river.

We hear the words of St. John the Baptist, who calls us, implores us, even warns us to bear the fruits of repentance in preparation of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29), and to receive a baptism not of water – that which is created, but of the Holy Spirit – that which is of God. Indeed a baptism of fire.

The Baptist calls us to build a spiritual fire in our hearts that might set our hearts ablaze with the love of God and neighbour alike. The challenge is to build a fire that burns, bringing warmth and light to those around it.

Yet we find ourselves stocking a fire with paper and flammable items that, like our emotional response to the love of God, and the blessings bestowed upon us, blaze brightly, but are consumed as quickly as they begin, only to blacken and singe the kindling of prayer,  fasting, good works, humility and mercy. We find ourselves tragically suffocating our sacrifice by heaping on all our rituals, good works, prayers, and principles, yet leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to feed the flames of love and mercy. Worse still, we create a noxious and poisonous cloud of smoke that chokes a life, love and mercy out of ourselves and those around us.

But if we incline our hearts to the words of the Baptist, and reclaim our baptism in Christ, the spiritual fire we build transforms us the way that paper, kindling, and logs are transformed by fire.

The emotional responses to God, ignite the kindling of prayer, fasting, good works, humility and mercy, with thanksgiving and praise. This kindling of prayer, fasting, good works, humility and mercy, which burns longer and with warmth to ignite our wooden hearts with a deeper compilation of God’s mercy, that burns throughout the blessings and tragedies of life with light that illuminates the darkness of our broken nature with everlasting life, and warmth, that melts away our cold hearts with eternal love.

But here is the miracle we prepare for, as paper, kindling and logs, become inseparable by fire, having been changed by fire; and are no longer inanimate elements, becoming alive with heat and light, our lives are changed and transformed by the divine fire that is the baptism of Christ, and more to the point, our baptism with Christ.

Our emotions, our prayers, our good works, our compilation of God’s mercy, become inseparable in the Holy Spirit, and the finite elements of our nature become by this fire infinite.

Let us prepare for the Theophany of the Lord, and the promise of being baptized not by water, but by the Holy Spirit, and build a fire that lights up the world with God’s love, and “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29).

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