“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16, 17)
These are the words of John the Baptist describing Jesus who will come after him. Like a lot of scripture, these words can have multiple levels of interpretation. As in the parable of the Last Judgment with its separation of the sheep and the goats, here we have the separation of the wheat and the chaff. Both references point to a separation of the good and the bad, with the potential consequence of determining our eternal destination.
John’s reference to the wheat and chaff likely relate to our present condition since he is talking about what Jesus will do for us – he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. If we accept Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit, he will separate the wheat from the chaff — preserving the wheat and destroying the chaff.
Because of our fallen human nature, we all have chaff in our lives. Jesus invites us to accept his winnowing fan — God’s grace to separate and remove the chaff. For most of us this is a life-long process. The chaff can represent the more obvious sins such as those that violate the Ten Commandments, or the more subtle forms, such as failures to love as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, or failures to reflect the Beatitudes in Mt. 5:1-12.
In our preparations to celebrate God becoming one of us in the birth of Jesus, perhaps we could spend some of the same energy seeking Jesus’s help in removing the chaff from our lives as we do in buying presents, decorating our houses and preparing the Christmas meal.
Some questions we might ask ourselves this week include: Am I patient and kind with store clerks when shopping? At holiday parties, do I listen more than I talk? Do I keep my anger in check when I feel I’m being slighted? Am I willing to adjust my plans when someone needs help? Am I spending time with Jesus as well as with family and friends?
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6 NIV)