“There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush . . .” — Exodus 3:2
My husband and daughters seem to get a kick out of remembering otherwise fun events by the one thing (sometimes two) that went wrong. Mostly tongue-in-cheek, instead of recalling all the enjoyable happenings of a vacation, a special dinner, or even the holidays, they choose to focus on the mishaps of the day.
For example, a trip to the beach is now referred to as “the time Mom forgot to put the car in park, causing it to roll into the woods with 5-year old Laura buckled in the back seat.” The car was only going about five miles per hour and it was gently halted by a protruding tree stump, but it still brought on serious panic followed immediately by multiple thank-you prayers.
Our 1997 trip to Disney World is now known as “the four-day torrential rain getaway.” The locals said they had rarely, if ever, seen so many days in a row of rain. How lucky can we get?
Christmas 2015 was “the year of the flu,” followed by Christmas 2016, “the stomach virus holiday.” I could go on, but I fear you would think our family life has been a string of bad luck vacations and get-togethers. I do not believe this to be the case, but please don’t check with my husband and daughters, a.k.a. the glass is half empty characters in this story.
On the last night the six of us were together, we were playing a board game. I had moved my ceramic nativity advent wreath from the dining table to a side table to make room for the game. I then lit the candles.
We were talking, laughing and having a great time. Suddenly, I looked up to see a burst of flames behind my daughter’s head! One of the candles had burned down to the greenery I had placed in and around the nativity figurines. The greenery was artificial, and apparently, highly flammable.
Fortunately, everyone jumped into action and there was no serious damage. Though, “Joseph” now looks less like a doting, proud father, and more like “The Ghost of Christmas Future.”
Of course, any scary episode like this always gets me thinking. I lay in bed that night listing the “what ifs” in my head. What if we weren’t all sitting there? What if we had gone to bed and I forgot to extinguish the candles? What if the wreath was closer to drapes? What if Laura’s hair caught fire? What if I hadn’t moved the wreath aside to make room for fun?
I lit the candles because it was our last night of celebrating all together. Laura and Erik were heading home to Annapolis the next day. Robin and John were going to their home in Raleigh a day later. Ted and I would soon be back in our empty-nest routine. Mentally, emotionally and physically, I was ready to burn down the candles and begin to pack away Christmas 2017.
A fire is difficult to ignore. When he noticed the burning bush, Moses said, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight” (Exodus 3:3). However, what was especially remarkable in his case was how the bush was not burned even though there were flames. In my case, poor Joseph’s ceramic glaze was seared off leaving only black soot.
Still, the event begs an analogy. I moved God out of the way to make room for fun and the start of a new year. I see this episode not as “The Year of the Fire,” but rather as a “Christmas of Clarity.” God was saying to me, “Hey I’m still here. The season of Jesus’ birth is not over and don’t start the new year without me!”
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not faulting myself for moving the wreath from the center of the table to have fun with my family. God is all for that, I’m sure. My point is, in my never-ending quest to see God in all things, the fire got me thinking. Whether it’s Advent, Lent, Easter, Christmas or Ordinary time, it’s crucial to keep God at the center of our lives. Mostly, it’s important to pay attention to the light!