In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Bell remembers that his father would carry the embers from the campfire in one camp to the next in an animal horn. It was a tradition passed to the cowboys from the Native Americans.
The fire carrier was important to western life.
The fire carrier brought hope … fire chased the darkness from the western skies. The night was not so ominous when a fire was burning.
The fire carrier helped continue the mission … hunters could keep hunting, continuing their search far from home. Cowboys could continue protecting their herds from predators.
The fire carrier sustained life … food could be cooked and made edible and become life-giving.
So too, today, stories—the fires we carry to each other—hold a special place in our lives. In the lines of a story, we can find healing, life, and light for our journeys.
And so was such a story. It began very simply, but it lit up the earth for thousands of years with its hopeful truth. It transformed everything. The fire it carried still burns brightly today.
This is that story’s opening line:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
That was fire! In a pagan, wildly senseless, brutally hopeless world, that story carried fire. It meant we weren’t random beings. We were wanted, created, and pursued by God. Here was meaning.
The story continued. Man turned away, but God didn’t extinguish the flame and give us over to darkness. Just the opposite. He called us His children, not just His creations. He loved us and still we turned our faces from Him. Over and over that pattern repeated.
But then a new part of the story lit up the world.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
And with those beginning words to his gospel, John carried fire to the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!
We can barely imagine how those words pierced the pagan heart with hope. The disciples and the apostles of the early church carried that fire to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. For centuries, mothers and fathers of all skin colors and nationalities have gathered their children around their knees and breathed the fire of God’s love into their children’s’ hearts with that same story. Preachers have carried that fire in their sermons. Missionaries have carried that story to the ends of the earth.
But the fire was often resisted. The story attacked. Ancient Rome tried to silence the fire-carrying story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. They persecuted the fire carriers and put them to death by crucifixion, stoning, the sword, and flames. The Jesus story turned the world upside down.
The church fanned the flames of the fire carriers and carried the embers to the entire world. The church, those Christ-followers with spine and heart, refused to be silenced, refused to be driven underground, refused to stop carrying the fire.
At great risk and sacrifice, the church spoke truth into their generations and was God’s love to the world.
At so many points in world history the fire could have been extinguished, the story buried and forgotten. But generation after generation of fire carriers kept the gospel ember burning. Fire carriers like Peter and Paul, John and Stephen, St Augustine, St. Patrick, George Whitefield, John Wesley, D.L. Moody, William Carey, Amy Carmichael, and Billy Graham carried the ember of the gospel story that continues to light up the world.
But these fire carriers were not alone. Though their individual embers burned brightly, they were easily snuffed out. But there was a church. The church fanned the flames of the fire carriers and carried the embers to the entire world. The church, those Christ-followers with spine and heart, refused to be silenced, refused to be driven underground, refused to stop carrying the fire. At great risk and sacrifice, the church spoke truth into their generations and was God’s love to the world.
That is the world’s most awesome story. It’s still the fire that lights up the world. It’s the story whose flames we protect and stoke today. The church, led by fire carriers of our generation, must proclaim God’s truth and love. We must proclaim it peacefully, persistently, clearly, fearlessly and with boldness. We must proclaim it so it lights a fire in our world.
We can face the future fearlessly. God is writing this story. And it is still fire.
May we be resilient.
May we be fearless.
And may we carry the fire to the next generations.