(Adults, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
This Sunday we light the pink candle on the Advent wreathe for the third Sunday of Advent. Pink is the colour for joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we feel joy—that feeling of goodness and happiness that bubbles up inside of us and we cannot keep it in—we know the Holy Spirit is working within us. Why, on this third Sunday of Advent, do we remember our joy?
The Gospel for this Sunday again visits John the Baptist at the Jordan river. The people stand dripping wet from their baptism, wondering about John. What are they wondering about?
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah
These are Advent people. Their hearts are filled with expectation—they are waiting with hope. They wonder if John the Baptist is the Messiah, the One sent by God to be light for the world. Perhaps the time waiting is over.
But John the Baptist says,
“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.
John the Baptist is a good person; he is a prophet of God. He must know that he does God's work and that he is good. But John the Baptist keeps his eyes on God. With his eyes on God, he knows how great the One who is coming is, and he knows that he himself is small. He knows how good the One who is coming is, and that he himself is sinful. John the Baptist knows he is not big enough, he is not good enough, he is not clean enough to touch the dirty, stinky sandals of the One who is coming. He knows that the One who is coming is more than he is.
The people must wonder how John the Baptist can keep preaching. How can he keep baptizing if he is not good enough? And if John the Baptist is not good enough, who is?Perhaps they should all just dry off and go home, and forget about the One who is coming.
No. John the Baptist can continue to proclaim because he keeps his eyes on God. He keeps listening to God, and he hears the Good News about the One who is coming:
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and 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.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is Good News. The Holy Spirit brings joy! But what about this fire? What is John the Baptist talking about? How is this Good News?
Most of us do not hear about winnowing forks and threshing floors every day. These are farming terms for harvesting wheat. Is the One who is coming a farmer? Perhaps. Or perhaps instead, John the Baptist is telling a parable, just like the One who is coming loves to do. Let's think about what he could mean.
Wheat is a seed that is used to make flour. It grows encased in chaff—a covering that gets in the way when trying to make the flour. The chaff is not needed. It is not good enough to make into flour. It is a problem that gets in the way. The winnowing fork separates the chaff away from the good wheat seed inside. The chaff is burned away so that what is left is simply the wheat, good enough—perfect, really—for flour.
The wheat is gathered. We know the One who is coming gathers his sheep; he gathers people around him. Could the wheat be people? Could the wheat be us?
If we are the wheat, then we are good. We are gathered; we are wanted. But what is the chaff that is not needed? What is the chaff that is not good enough? What is a problem that gets in the way of us being perfect? We know what this is. Like John the Baptist, with our eyes on God we know the choices that we have made that are not good.
What if we have lots of sins? Is our sin too much for the One who is coming? Can anything we do be so bad that he cannot get rid of it?
Nope. Unquenchable fire. Nothing is too bad that he cannot winnow it away. He comes to make us perfect.
On the third Sunday of Advent, we remember that we already know the One who is coming. We know we are baptized and have received the Holy Spirit. We know we are good, and gathered, and wanted. Our sin is winnowed away and burned up, never to keep us apart from the One who is coming, the One who loves us so much. No wonder we are filled with JOY!