Prepare to listen. Light the pink candle. Take a moment to be still and silent, then pray: Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid. (Isaiah 12:2)
Read: Luke 3:15-18
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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. 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.’ 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
What is the good news, the gospel? To many, it’s about Jesus dying for my sins so I can go to heaven when I die. In other words, a very personal and individual assurance that good things will happen to me. John the Baptizer would have scratched his head in bewilderment if he heard us say this! To him, the good news was this: judgment has arrived! Not an individual but a national, even a world judgment. The judgment begins in his message that the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, which becomes clear we pay attention to the symbolism and the images John uses. The word translated spirit is the same Greek word for wind. Both wind and fire are symbols of judgment and cleansing in Scripture. If we didn’t know that, the imagery of the ‘winnowing-fork’ and separating the wheat from the chaff that will ‘burn with unquenchable fire’ should alert us to John’s meaning of good news—judgment, not ‘heaven when I die.’
How is this good news, you may well ask? Because Messiah also makes possible repentance and forgiveness of sin, thereby giving us all a way to escape the judgment. As Fred Craddock in his commentary on Luke observes, “The primary aim is to save the wheat, not to burn the chaff.” Advent reminds us that Jesus’ coming was good news in a way we rarely think about. Jesus came to bring judgment so that all creation (not a few individuals) could be restored.
What words or phrases caught your attention in the reading today? What do you think Jesus intends for you to understand?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, help me remember that the good news includes judgment and cleansing, stuff that won’t be under the tree on Christmas morning, but stuff I ought to remember. Your coming was costly and calls for a costly response from me. Help me walk truly before you today. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, living the good news.