Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (NRSV)
Verse 15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, Verse 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Verse 17His 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."
Verse 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, Verse 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Hymn Reflection: ELW 311
When I was a child, hearing verses like these always disturbed me. I wondered what the chaff was and why Jesus would burn it with unquenchable fire. It fostered questions of who the wheat and the chaff were and how one would know how to recognize them. It seems we can spend significant time prejudging people as to whether they will be saved or not, when in reality the matter of salvation isn’t ours to judge but rather belongs to Jesus. If chaff is the waste husk of the grain, could it be possible that the fire burns the chaff off the grain so that all the grain may be saved? I continue to be challenged by these texts, but perhaps what I need most to take from this is John’s words of humility before Jesus and my need to be humble as well and simply focus on sharing Jesus’ message of forgiveness and salvation with others.
Jesus, we are so often caught up in judgment that we forget that we are called to proclaim the promise in baptism of our new life in God. Help us to share that good news with those hungering for hope and new life as well. In your precious name. Amen.