1 – Luke 3:17-18
2 – Zephaniah 3:17-18
1 – “…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.” Exhorting in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
2 – The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.
I want to focus on two verses from the gospel and two verses from the Old Testament reading for today. Interestingly enough, they are both from the third chapter, and are verses 17 and 18. From the gospel, it sounds very harsh at first: (read # 1). But he preached good news to the people. The second part, from Zephaniah, sounds like nothing but good times.
This is the problem I see in many people’s approaches to our faith right now. Too many want good news, and the happy times, and the festivals. But that is not what John the Baptist was talking about. There is a separation coming. A separation of the wheat from the chaff. A separation of the good from the evil. And make no mistake, there is a separation coming. That separation will be a very difficult thing to endure.
We hear so much of the comments about how the coming of the Lord will be splendid and glorious. But what we do not hear often enough, in my estimation, is that there will be people who are not happy at the return of the Lord. The church gives us this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, to help us to rejoice, and not be so deeply in a penitential season that we forget what is coming.
But still, in the Advent wreath, we have two purple candles, and the pink candle lit to remind us that we need to prepare for what is coming. Yes, part of what is “coming” is Christmas. But as I have said before, advent is not about preparing for Christmas, it is about preparing for the return of Christ at the end of time.
That is what John the Baptist was declaring. He saw the need to separate the wheat from the chaff in his day. Do we see it in our day? He challenged immorality. How well do we challenge immorality today?
I am not saying we need to stand on a street corner dressed in camel’s hair and scream at people “repent”, but in our own ways, in our homes, in our jobs, we need to be clear about what is acceptable moral behavior, while at the same time declaring God’s mercy!
It cannot be about just calling people sinners. It has to be about calling people to a God who rejoices in repentant hearts. There was a Christian song written a few years ago that said something like “amid all the singing of God’s praises in heaven, he holds up his hand for silence when someone on earth says ‘God forgive me’.”
Who do you know that needs to say those words, either for the first time ever, or for the first time in years? What can you do to help them see that they need that moment? Do you need that moment? Maybe YOU need to say it for the first time since… yesterday.
God is waiting for every moment we are willing to say “help me, forgive me, save me.” As it says in the book of Lamentations: “The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; they are renewed each morning — great is [his] faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22-23.
Lord, we turn to you as a sinful people, as sinful individuals, in need of your mercies. Help us to fall on our knees, crying out, “forgive me,” that we may be lifted up from our knees by your Almighty saving hands. That we may stand on our feet to praise and glorify your name because you have set us free.
As we continue, and draw advent to a close, help us turn our eyes to the birth of your son, the source of our salvation and our joy. Help us to draw others back to faith as we recognize and acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for your grace and mercy. Amen.