Fires mesmerize me. When confined to a fire pit or fireplace, the warmth, beauty, and power of the flames draw me in so that I can stare for hours. Few things fascinate and relax me more.
As I was enjoying a fire this week, it struck me that there must be something ancient awakened in this experience. If we rewind the timeline to the days “when man began to multiply on the face of the land” (Genesis 6:1), a fire represented survival and livelihood. It was used to cook food and bake bricks for building. Our ancestors’ ability to contain and control fire set them apart from the beasts of the land as an outworking of their mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Fire was everything.
The very idea that something I experience now connects me to those who lived thousands of years ago is in itself mesmerizing. The new, shiny, disposable nature of our technological era often truncates our appreciation of the ancient and enduring. Facebook and iPhones may feel like integral components of the human experience, yet neither is more than a decade old. Fire, on the other hand, is a portal to our long history. It joins dirt, air, and water on the short list of ancient elements.
Yet there is something more ancient for us to experience. In the middle of history, a man who cooked over fire, wrote in the dirt, breathed the air, and was immersed in water claimed to be something even older than these. “All things”–ancient elements and their useful shape–“were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Before these elements existed, he simply was. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
When “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) in the person of Jesus, he offered us a portal to something more elemental than fire. He revealed the most ancient reality, one unbound by time and space. This Word, prior to creating dirt, air, water, and fire, existed in a relationship. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). In a later prayer, Jesus would expound on what it meant for him to be face-to-face “with” God. “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). And what was the essence of that glory? “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Love is more ancient than fire, more essential to who we are than the dirt, air, and water that compose our bodies. The experience brought to us by the Word made flesh is one of glorious belonging, face-to-face intimacy, mutual valuing, and joyful sharing.
As we ponder the mystery of God with us, the divine in human skin, let us experience the ancient. Let us set aside time to be caught up in the glory, ourselves face-to-face with God. Let us drink in his love and feel the belonging. And as this connection grounds us in our identity, let us practically and proactively share this ancient experience with those among whom we dwell.