It was “Ring of Fire” in my head that day as I moved through our house, 3-year-old at my heels. I was singing…
Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.
Maybe I could’ve gotten away with such lyrics leaking from my mouth on a random Wednesday morning while I folded laundry, but the words were too good for August to ignore. This same boy who introduces himself to strangers as, “Hi, I’m August. I like yucky things, like germs and volcanos and fire,” is the boy who says, “Mama, I really like that song you’re singing!”
That day I pulled up the YouTube video of Johnny singing in black and white and we spent the rest of the day stuck on, “Down down down down down!” as we went about our tasks, August on his knees in his room, Playmobile knights in hand, a song he didn’t even know he was still singing in his mouth.
So last Friday night, after dinner, when we blew out the three lit Advent candles on the table, the boy snuck back to the slowly hardening wax and stuck his finger in to feel its warmth on fingertip. He walked to my husband.
“Daddy, there’s love in this” he said, holding his waxy finger toward Chris’ face. “You know why? Because that song says ‘love is a burning thing.'”
The other day I read in Isaiah 9, “Those who lived in the land of deep darkness– / on them a light has shined.”
Every light is a burning thing, right? Our most necessary light, the life-giving sun, is a consumer, the most dangerous fire of all. We cover our skin from it. We shield our eyes from it. And then we beg it to come toward us, to warm us, to bring life again to this dark winter-ridden land.
This is Advent. We don’t just passively wait for the light; we actively engage with it. We cup it in our hands, we light the candles. We pray for enlightenment, that we may understand this God who sends his son, that we may see the miracle that we usually miss.
Our souls know when the star shines over Bethlehem, when the angels awaken sleepy shepherds with Glory, when a baby cries in the filth-filled barn, there’s love in it. The darkness is consumed, the path is revealed, the star hovers above the secret place where the baby is born.
And we stand beside our children on Christmas Eve and watch the wicks on every handheld candle whoosh into flame across the dark sanctuary. We hover around the little hands holding fire, imagining the one spark that might set the place ablaze. Then we remember to sing, to hold up notes with the voices beside us. And in that moment when we look up from the children, when we release the momentary fear, when we sing of the “Virgin, mother and child.” We sing of the “holy infant…” and we see that yellow glow in the room that was blind before. We remember the light. And we blow out the candles. The overhead lamps click on.
But we drag our fingers through the warm wax, the reminder that for a moment we held something holy, something dangerous and life-giving, something that marks us by its heat. And on that fingertip, that pointer finger warmed by quickly hardening wax, we know the secret. We know love is a burning thing.
And there’s love in this.