In the Second Sunday in Advent, we hear John the Baptist proclaim, “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.” (Luke 3:16-17 NRSV) This is a message we hear each year during Advent, and it made me think of two things: one, that Advent is not about preparing for the coming of the infant Jesus (although that is sometimes the prevailing image) but the coming of the eternal Christ as foretold by many prophets before, and two, that John summons the image of wheat and chaff, perhaps an unexpected image for this time of year.
There is a lot of imagery in the Bible around harvesting, pruning, and even refining metals like gold and silver. Our modern sensibilities may have lost some of the meaning of these manual tasks, but they have been very commonplace for much of human history, and it occurred to me that there is a type of violence in these acts. The harvester cuts down the harvest, ripping it away from the Earth. The pruner cuts away branches and fruit from the vine, and the refiner plunges fine metal into fire to melt away impurities. Even the simple act that John presents of removing chaff from wheat requires either hurling the wheat into the air or hitting it against a stone or the ground to knock the chaff away from the grain. In each of these metaphors these intense actions are necessary to bring the object to its most valuable and desirable purpose.
My own path towards healing and wholeness often comes with intense even sometimes traumatic moments or thoughts. Only something intentional and direct can knock that chaff from the wheat underneath. There is nothing inherently “wrong” with the chaff mind you, just as there is nothing inherently “wrong” with our shadow-selves. But unless we can move beyond the limiting measure of that shadow-self, allowing it to fall away like the chaff, we can never hope to become our fullest and truest selves– “the light of the world.”
And, just like the vine, or the precious metal, or the wheat, I cannot refine myself– by myself. I need God’s help. Please understand, I do not suggest that God wishes us to suffer or be hurt, but God waists nothing and includes everything in our journey to becoming whole and holy. What an important thing to remember as we prepare the way for Christ to enter into the world and into our hearts this season. God so loves you that God is always working to gather, refine, and perfect you into children of light. May you come to see your moments of challenge and struggle as an opportunity to be broken open, inviting God deeper.