The Third Sunday of Advent – December 13, 2015
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
I speak to you in the Name of God our Healer, Refiner, and Sanctifier. Amen.
Anyone feeling stressed these days? Tis the season of busyness and bustling. And when we are feeling especially blunderbussed by the unbearable, burgeoning burdens of the day, we come to church to hear the comforting words of John: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Wouldn’t you just love to say that to someone when you’re frustrated?
John the Baptist’s seeming Bah Humbug’s may make us long for such boldness in our own lives. Or leave us thinking, what a party pooper. Thank goodness I didn’t invite him to Christmas dinner!
Either way you spin it, John’s harsh words and images of fiery judgment are hard for us to hear—especially as Christmas draws near. And if John’s chastisement in the beginning isn’t bad enough, we conclude with the hopeful words: “So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.”
Exhortations! Now, there’s a cheery holiday word to throw around. Swap out your Merry Christmases for Merry Exhortations and watch the joy abound!
John’s exhortations succeed in challenging and rebuking us. “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down
and thrown into the 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.”
But, exhortations are not only meant to challenge and rebuke. Exhortations are also meant to encourage, to beseech, to strengthen.
John is actually calling us not to be a brood of vipers fleeing hither and yon from the fire, but to know that when we come to face the fire “Surely it is God who saves me!
I will trust in him and not be afraid.”
Let’s take another look at the good news that is present in John’s images of fire.
Imagine your life not as a single tree, but as an entire orchard. As orchards, our goal is to turn ourselves towards God—to root ourselves in the source of all goodness. With an orchard, repentance becomes a process of uprooting the trees that bear bad thoughts and bad actions and replanting them in God.
As orchards, we repent by bending our branches back towards the Son in prayer. By shedding the dry, withered leaves in order to sprout new life and new possibilities.
As orchards, we no longer fear the ax and the fire as tools of divine judgment. But embrace these as tools of God’s spiritual healing and salvation—tools that create room for new trees to flower and more fruits of Christ’s kingdom to flourish.
In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis states, “There is but one good; that is God.
Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.”
Now imagine your life is comprised of both the wheat and the chaff. The kernels of wheat are the special gifts that God has planted in each of us—kernels specially created for us to help grow and feed God’s kingdom on earth. The chaff is the hard, protective casings around the kernels. Hard casings of fear, self pity, hatred, bitterness, greed, and
selfishness. Hardened hearts and minds worn to protect ourselves from the outer world.
Being made of both wheat and chaff, we repent by entrusting our full selves to God. By entering the threshing process where we allow God to break open, peel back,
and remove those hardened, tough, protective casings so that the kernels of our inner gifts may be lifted up and set free.
Entrusting our full selves to God, we enter the winnowing process where all that we are is tossed in the wind of the Holy Spirit so that the heavier kernels may fall to the ground
and become the substance of our being. So that our hardened hearts and minds,
our heavy burdens of guilt and shame become like chaff in the wind—lighter than air and easily blown away.
What a beautiful metaphor of God’s grace and forgiveness. And as the wind of the Holy Spirit sweeps the chaff away, it is blown into the fire to be purged and purified.
We need not flee from the unquenchable fire for this is not the fire of hell, but the living flame of love—the unquenchable fire of joy; the unquenchable fire of hope; the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit that encourages, challenges,
strengthens, and calls us out of the chaff of our hardened shells and into kernels of new life in him.
Let us not cling to the chaff—for then we cling to that which can never bring lasting joy, lasting hope, lasting peace and salvation.
Let us not cling to the chaff, but instead pray to God through word and action “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thy kingdom, thy will;
not my kingdom, my will.
Let us not cling to the chaff, for every time we cling to the chaff, we get burned.
Let us not cling to the chaff, but trust in God. For every time we trust God in the threshing and winnowing of our lives, we will be refined and reformed for God’s good use. For surely it is God who saves us. Trust in him and be not afraid. Amen