This marks the return of my Sunday Sermon series, back for the first time in nearly a year. If you are interested in Faith-related writing, check out the links below this piece for a sampling of mine from the past. You can also visit the Faith link in the toolbar at my home page.

In today’s Gospel from Saint Luke on the third Sunday of Advent we hear John the Baptist being asked a variety of questions posed by his followers as well as some of his critics. These questions were mostly related to how they should be acting.

There was a buzz in the crowd as John answered. Many wondered whether he could possibly be the long-awaited Messiah. John heard the rumors and quickly clarified for the people with the following:

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and 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.

John was speaking, of course, about Jesus Christ. Just a few months younger, Jesus would eventually be baptized by John, retreat into the desert, and emerge to begin his own time-altering ministry.

Rather than explore the full ministries of either John or Jesus, or the relationship between the two, let’s just for now focus on the meaning and importance of one snippet from that memorable John quote above.

His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…

“Threshing” is the process by which the edible part of a grain, such as wheat, is separated out from the straw to which it had been attached. A “threshing floor” is traditionally the place where grain is separated out and can be either outdoors or inside.

“Winnowing” takes place after the threshing is complete and is the process where the good grain, which can be consumed by humans, is separated from shell casings, dry straw, or other plant materials which humans cannot eat but which are safe for animals to digest.

A “winnowing fan” is a basket in which the material is scooped and tossed into the wind, either natural or supplied by a fan. The chaff, which is lighter, blows away while the heavier grain falls to the ground where it can be swept up and gathered for further refinement into products for our consumption.

John uses this analogy to demonstrate that Jesus and his teachings will separate out the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. The wheat – the good – he will “gather into his barn“, signifying believers in Jesus will join him in Heaven.

There is also a final warning in the message as to what will happen to those who willfully turn away from Jesus and his teachings: “…the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The admonition from John could not be clearer.

When the threshing and winnowing are done at the end of the age, where will you find yourself? Will you be among the wheat gathered into his barn? Or among the chaff, burning in the unquenchable fire?


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