Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Holy Fire

fireintheheavens

“The Lord comes roaring out of Zion.” The shepherds weep. The mountains wither. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Advent may be far more risky than we ever imagined. The coming of the Lord may cost us everything.

It is so easy to forget that He is a Consuming Fire.

As we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord, we may be expecting a domesticated God that we’ve tamed into our own image. Even our acts of devotion and our profound reflection can easily devolve into a subtle form of self-worship. Amos interrupts our comfortable spirituality by proclaiming, “The Lord comes roaring out of Zion.”

John the Baptist warns, “The ax is at the root of the trees.” When the Lord comes, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Who can stand at the coming of the Lord?

Alfred Delp, a faithful priest executed by the Nazi regime, preached multiple Advent sermons as he looked toward his coming demise. He writes, “The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.”
[1]

Delp takes words of the prophets seriously and enters into Advent with a holy awe before the God who comes in ravaging fire. As I reflected upon Delp’s sermons during the opening days of Advent, I decided to forego my normal practice of listening to meditative music like the Benedictines Of Mary. Somehow the gentle intonations of ancient hymns did not capture this sense of terror in approaching the throne.

This year, I chose to begin Advent soaking in fire of Amos while listening to songs from the Call. This music hails back to my college days in the mid-80s, and it pounds with a warning of impending doom. On their album Reconciled, lead singer Michael Been belts out,

We were shaking in our beds that night
There were strangers in the streets that night
Preacher cried out hell’s been raised
Another hot Oklahoma night
Another hot Oklahoma night
The kind of night where you just sit still
The kind of night where you just don’t move
We were shaking in our beds that night
We were shaking in our boots that night
Tornado hit and the roof gave way
Tornado hit and all we could do was pray [2]

A tornado rages and the people cry out to God. This sounds more like the messages of Amos, Isaiah and John the Baptist. The Day of the Lord is at hand, and it is a day of wailing and loud lament.

For the first two weeks of Advent, the Daily Office Lectionary (year two) invites us to encounter the dread judgments in Amos as the Holy God roars out of Zion. Amos and John the Baptist lead us to the hope of Advent by way of the terror of the Lord.

Hope rooted in warm feelings and happy thoughts cannot sustain us through the dark nights we face in this world. We need a hope rooted in light that overcomes the darkness. We need the light of God’s glory. In the light of His love, we behold His awesome beauty that satisfies our souls, and we behold our desperate need for His mercy and grace.

If we follow the judgment rendered in Amos, we see a clue to what God reveals again and again. Gaza is judged for “carrying a whole people into exile.” Edom is judged because “he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity.” Kingdom after kingdom is judged for the way they treated one another. They failed to love the Lord and love one another.

As I read the judgments on these nations, I could see my own lack of love. I could see the subtle ways I withhold love from others and my tendencies to look turn from God’s love to the idols of this world. It is in His grace alone, I am led back to mercy and back into His way of love.

Advent is a call to wait and watch for the lover of our souls. He comes like a consuming fire that burns away the bands of death ensnaring us. Turning toward Him will cost the illusions, deceptions and distractions that hinder us from becoming lovers created in His image. He comes to free us from our slavish independence and lead us into the freedom of dependence upon His grace alone.

As we look for the coming of Jesus Christ, we are being changed. His Spirit convicts, exposes and leads us again and again to the light of God’s redeeming love. So we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, expose us in your light and cover us in your love. Lead us into the hope of your glory and the fullness of joy.”

And this is Good News of great joy!

Image by Kim Seng (used by permission via Creative Commons).

[1] Delp, Alfred (2010-06-21). Advent Of The Heart (Kindle Locations 490-492). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] For more information on the song “Oklahoma” and the entire Reconciled album, see http://www.the-call-band.com/discography/reconciled.html.

2 Comments

  1. Great meditation, Doug. It reminds of the following passage from Exodus 20 (NIV):

    18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

    20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

    21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

    • Doug Floyd

      December 19, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Yes. Powerful story. When we look into what seems thick darkness and terror we behold the face of love in Jesus! I sure miss talking with you Ben, and I didn’t get to sit and chat the other night. You always provoke my faith and stir my heart. Blessings!

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