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Rev Philemon Akao from Solomon Islands shares about how fire across Melanesia draws us together, and sends us out.

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Rev. Philemon Akao is Priest with the Anglican Church of Melanesia, and an eco-theologian based in Solomon Islands. He shares with us through Anglican Overseas Aid, a Christian development organisation addressing climate change across the Pacific.*

Today's reading is Isaiah 11:1-10

Christian community often meets for worship and gets its identity from such a gathering, but in Melanesia the ordinary everyday gathering comes first as the source of our identity, and worship is not until the end. The most powerful element people are identified with is fire. Ordinary gathering is centred on fire. To that end, fire isn’t just the flame as the result of dried sticks stacked together. Fire is first the warmth of the people’s relationship: to talk, listen, agreeing in consensus and taking humane actions.

Similarly, the camp fire at night among these communities isn’t a secluded event. Camp fire is always a communal event. And fire comes first before people’s gathering. This is because of the warmth that the fire gives to all who gather around, and out from which people in turn, reach out to embrace one another. Above all, fire is a symbol of presence. In Melanesia, wherever the community gathers around the fire, it is always with the belief that the dead and the living community gathers together. The camp fire has a religious significance, as fire symbolises the presence of the Great One calling on the living community to be responsive to its needs and those of others.

Advent for Melanesians in their observance of fire is taking on a new meaning. Wars which caused much human misery, death, disintegration of families, and the loss of innocent lives have caused indigenous peoples to light their fires and camp around fires at nights. Like the vision of Isaiah, when the ‘wolf will live with the lamb,’ Advent fire is our way of sitting, remembering and praying for that future to come, for those who are homeless, hungry, wounded and have lost their hope. They become the fire in our midst and we treasure their lives. As the fire is lit, and brightly glowing, each moment we see beyond their sufferings and pains; the hope when wars shall be no more. Advent fire becomes a future that is now. This is the future that, calls us to sit, remember, embrace to our hearts the sufferings and the pains of our sisters and brothers throughout the world who suffer the most for no reason of their own.

The warmth, glow and hope of the Advent fire is ‘unexpected beauty’ in both the present and the future, as we await the ‘glorious dwelling’ of the Lord (Isaiah 11:10).

*Common Grace has partnered with Anglican Overseas Aid to help amplify the voice of Christians across the Pacific who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. You can support their important work in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu by making a donation on their website.

Daily Reading Isaiah 11:1-10

The Peaceful Kingdom

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

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Unexpected Beauty: An Advent series from Common Grace