I’ve never been anywhere near an actual wildfire. I’ve only seen them on T.V.—most always somewhere on the west coast where the news will say something like “30,000 acres have now been burned and the fire is only 25% under control. I’m not sure what that means, but 25% control doesn’t sound like very much control to me.

And so it has been really horrifying to watch what happened this week in Gatlinburg. We are all pretty much aware that our state and region have suffered a serious drought and that everything has been particularly dry. And it appears this fire (these fires) were purposefully set by someone for reasons that could never make sense.

What no one could have predicted were extremely high winds that descended so quickly and fiercely. What would have been bad enough—a wildfire—quickly became more like a tsunami. People were caught and trapped. As I write this, 13 confirmed dead and untold damage, not just to property, but to the entire ecosystem. We are told it will take years to recover.

I was struck this morning on the way to church by a story about a couple that owned two wedding chapels in Gatlinburg. Between saltwater taffy and wedding chapels you pretty much have Gatlinburg figured out. One of their chapels burned—the other didn’t. This morning they told of holding their first wedding in the chapel that remains yesterday. It was unremarkable—much like all the other weddings they assist, but this one also had the ring of a hopeful future.

Gatlinburg will come back. Weddings will be performed. Saltwater taffy will be made and consumed. The people there are resilient. There is hope.

During the season of Advent, hope is very much at the heart of the story. A people who had walked for so many generations in darkness, a savior who would be Christ the Lord, all that had looked hopeless yesterday now felt hopeful. With all due respect to the gift buying and giving and receiving, hope is what lies at the heart of Christmas.

Some of you have asked how you can help the people of Gatlinburg. There are three primary agencies you can support with your dollars: The American Red Cross, The Middle Tennessee Community Foundation, and The Dolly Parton Foundation (if you needed any other reason to love Dolly Parton, she has committed $1000 per month to every family who lost their homes in the fire for the next 6 months—she is the face of hope for her neighbors. God bless her).