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Burning Your Chaff, Harvesting Your Wheat - Luke 3:7-18

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

The sixteen-year-olds walked eagerly into the old town office one summer evening. They took their seats chattering excitedly as their driver’s ed instructor strutted into the room. The students smiled as she gazed around the room, looking each of them in the eye. Suddenly, without introduction, she shouted: “You bunch of slackers! What makes you think you can drive a car? You better wipe those smiles off your faces because driving’s serious business! You’ll be controlling a 3,000-pound bullet and you better know what you’re doing! And be ready because if you pass this class, the guy from the DMV is coming and he’s not as nice as I am! I’ll test you with pen and paper, he’ll test you with standard transmission and parallel parking!”

The students were shocked. Who was this lady? And who’s this DMV guy who holds the fate of their high school years in his hand? “What then shall we do?” inquired one nervous student. Seeing she got their attention, the driver’s ed instructor calmly said, “Pay attention in class, read your assignments, and treat each other with kindness and respect. You do that and you’ll be fine.”

I think this slightly embellished tale of someone’s first day of driver’s ed can help us see John’s motives for speaking so harshly to his listeners about the coming of Christ. John strikes the fear of God into the crowd. But when he gets their attention and they fearfully ask “What then shall we do?” he doesn’t tell them to fast for 40 days, pray 12 hours a day, and wear clothes made of camel’s hair. He basically says, “You know what to do. Give to those in need. Don’t steal or cheat anybody. Don’t push people around. Be kind, honest, and share. Then you’ll be ready and the one who is to come will teach you all you need to know.”

Jesus’ coming into the world is serious business. Pay attention because everything depends on it. Do what you know you should do because the Lord is coming. But don’t despair and think you’ve got to be super-human for Jesus to notice you. Because as John continues, Jesus is going to get to work on you. Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will clear us of all our chaff and harvest our wheat, transforming us into the people God intends us to be, sanctifying us with the Holy Spirit, and pruning us to be good fruit for the world.

What is the chaff that God is burning away in you? What’s God purifying in you? Is it your selfish attitude? Is it an addiction? Is it your focus on shopping for more materialistic things rather than donating necessities to those in need? Is it a bias toward the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the refugee?

Whatever it is God may want to purify in you, John the Baptist is asking us this morning: are you ready for Jesus to burn your chaff, to purify you no matter how painful it may be? Are you prepared to share Christ-like love with all you meet? Are you ready to die to yourself and be transformed by the Spirit? John warns such transformation can be a mighty painful process. It will mean taking up our cross and putting ourselves last. It will mean inner struggles and outer trials. It will mean putting aside our own desires, our own agendas for the sake of God and our neighbor. It means leaving behind our own will and surrendering our wills to God’s.

Just like our aspiring young drivers, we might find ourselves completely overwhelmed with the road that lies ahead of us. But unlike those teenagers, we don’t just have an eccentric driver’s ed instructor and some guy from the DMV—we have God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working in us to transform us into the daughters and sons of God we’re created to be. Some of those kids may fail their driver’s test, but God will not fail to transform you and make you holy. It is not our own doing that purifies us into the people Jesus calls us to be. It’s not some sort of inner works righteousness. It is the work of God that burns our chaff and harvests our wheat, which makes us holy and transforms us so that we reflect the divine image in which we were created. This is the work of God in you.

It is the work of God in us when we care for those in need. It is the work of God in us when we pack gifts for Operation Christmas Child or donate items to the Mitten Tree. It is the work of God in us when we buy ELCA Good Gifts for those in need, or decide to sponsor a child next year through World Vision or Compassion International. It is the work of God in us when we support a friend in their grief. It is the work of God in us when we teach children about the Christmas story. It is the work of God in us when we tell others how much our church family means to us. It is the work of God in us when we dig deep, reach out, and change lives.

So while this may sound like a tall order, and John makes it clear that it is, rest assured that it’s not up to us to make it happen. Christ is transforming you and all of us into “little christs” as theologian CS Lewis put it so appropriately. That’s why Jesus was born that first Christmas and that’s why John cried out in the wilderness. Jesus is at work: today, in you, in me, in every person’s heart calling us forth to live for God and God’s mission in the world. And He will not stop until all can join the magnificent Feast God longs to share.

So, let us pray, as John says, that God burns our chaff and harvests our wheat. Pray that the Lord may transform you this holiday season. Pray that the Christ Child makes a home in your heart and rids you of everything that separates you from Him. Let this season of Advent be a journey for you. A journey of renewing your commitment to God each new day. A journey of following the stirring of the Spirit in every circumstance. A journey of ever deepening surrender to the will of God in your life. Let this journey be a lifelong adventure and relationship with our Newborn King.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Brian, 12/12/21

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