Reflection on Luke 3:7 – Third Sunday of Advent

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. – Luke 3:15-18

Wow, so what the heck kind of Advent reading is this? With a friend like you, who needs a…. fill in the blank.

As I prepared for teaching class today, I struggled for some time with today’s gospel reading. If you’re like me, you think of Advent as all about quiet, preparation, darkening days, and the onset of Christmas and its brightness. But today we get a big “you brood of vipers!’. Gee, thanks, John!

Of all the thinking I went through, I thought I’d capture this one note for posterity. It’s the most complete thought I had today.

When I read this passage, I always and only hear judgement. Am I wheat or chaff? I desperately want to be wheat, so am I doing enough to qualify? Always with the self-judgement. But then it struck me – so, just what is threshing all about? Scripture is filled with metaphors of grain, wheat, harvesting, and all that. And I didn’t grow up with that in my family, so I honestly don’t really know what threshing is. I checked with my BFF, Wikipedia, and read (paraphrasing):

Sheaves of grain would be opened up and the stalks spread across the threshing floor. Pairs of donkeys or oxen (or sometimes cattle, or horses) would then be walked round and round, often dragging a heavy threshing board behind them, to tear the ears of grain from the stalks, and loosen the grain itself from the husks. After this threshing process, the broken stalks and grain were collected and then thrown up into the air with a wooden fork-like tool called a winnowing fan. The chaff would be blown away by the wind; the short torn straw would fall some distance away; while the heavier grain would fall at the winnower’s feet. The grain could then be further cleansed by sieving.

All gets crushed. The good and the bad. It’s really not so great to be the wheat, after all… But the important realization for me is that we’re all wheat and chaff all the time. Life hurts. We suffer. Everyone we love, suffers. We lie, split and crushed, on the threshing floor beneath beasts of burden. But, the chaff of our lives is rendered away to the breeze. And God gathers us as his wheat, into his granary.

The cleansing hurts, and therein lies the good news for me. Because as bad as today is, tomorrow will be better. I will be better, because more of the truth of who I am as a child of God will be revealed to myself and the world. I will be wheat, to be food for the hungry world. So I do not feel judged here. This is not prescriptive, but descriptive.

Lord, bring us into awareness of the truth of who we are. Split away our chaff, and grant us some relief from this present time of threshing, with hope and eagerness for all that will be revealed in us.

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