Ready the Way of the Lord"His winnowing fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing floor"(John the Baptist)
Today, we make a shift from focusing on the “end times” to the other end of our journey, preparing for the coming of Messiah! It is a preparation that harkens back to the time when John the Baptist was preparing the way by preaching repentance in the wilderness, but it is also the preparation we live today that anticipates the revelation of God’s kingdom more perfectly.
We begin our story as we Christians often do, with our Jewish brothers and sisters who first heard and responded to God’s revelation. Isaiah’s text celebrates the arrival of the perfect king with three sets of distinguishing virtues: deep wisdom and understanding, might and counsel, and knowledge and fear of God—virtues of intelligence, practical ability, and piety. What more could one ask of a leader? Alas, this hope faded over time.
With the birth of Jesus, King of King and Lord of Lords, Emmanuel—God-With-Us, the kingdom was not fully realized, but Jesus’ coming set in motion the building of the kingdom. Just as John pointed the way of Messiah, Jesus pointed the way to God’s Kingdom, and the Holy Spirit continues to guide us and provide us with hope. John’s “reading of the way” now is transformed into our mandate to “walk the way” made by Jesus for a people who were originally known as “People of the Way”.
John’s preparation of repentance for the coming of Jesus the first time is still valid today for us who set out on the way of Christ. Before we plot a course, we have to know where we are in relationship to our destination; that is why repentance is part of Advent. Repentance, as the word suggests, orients us a hundred and eighty degrees from our present course; it turns us around and gets us going in the right direction. John uses the image of the winnowing fan separating the valuable wheat from the waste of the chaff. The chaff is the lighter and unusable part of the wheat and must be separated from the valuable kernel of the wheat itself. Often this is preached as a metaphor for God punishing the unrighteous as “chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”. While this may be valid, for us it is also an opportunity to see a more personal dimension to repentance. The chaff is all those things that accumulate in our lives that obscure the true wheat of Christ; the Good News. Though the ministration of the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, we can let go of all that is not Good News both for ourselves and for others. Advent is a time for looking at what we cling to that keeps us from paying attention to our destination, for dulling our sense of direction as well as the destination.