2nd Sunday of Advent year A 2019 2:
St John the Baptist gives us an interesting image in the gospel today. We hear that the coming messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When I hear that I think of the sacrament of baptism. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and give the baptismal candle, the fire that represents Jesus. But, then he says that the messiah will have the winnowing fan and he will clear the threshing floor. This sounds like an image of the second coming, when Jesus will gather all his disciples to himself. This threshing image is interesting, and we probably don’t think about it too often.
When I was in seminary, I was fortunate enough to take some classes in Greek. As you probably know, the New Testament is all written in Greek. I find it fascinating to read the Bible in the original language, because all translations have their limitation. Now, it just so happened that this passage was one of the verses that we studied in our Greek class. In fact, we all had to take turns reading the Greek out loud as we worked along with the translation. Now, as you can imagine, the word “winnowing fan” is not a very common word. And to make matters worse, it’s kind of a weird word to pronounce. The Greek word is “ptuon”. My friend John, who is a priest in Charlotte diocese, was reading out loud when we came to that word. And he sort of butchered it. So, the professor corrected him. Then John went ahead and tried again. Another failure and another correction. He tried a third time and still was unable to say it. So, the professor misunderstood John’s problem. He thought he couldn’t remember that ptuon meant winnowing fan. So, he stopped class and went to the chalkboard. He drew a big picture of what a winnowing fan looks like, and he went into a 10-minute discussion on how a winnowing fan works. My poor friend John was quite embarrassed. And as his good friends, we all gave him grief, of course.
But, that lesson really came back to me this week as I was praying and reflecting on that image of the winnowing fan. This is how it worked. All the grain would be out on the threshing floor. The winnowing fan is like a big pitchfork. The farmer grabs the grain and tosses it into the air with the winnowing fan. As it’s falling back down to the earth, the wind catches all the parts of the grain that are light and fluffy, like the stalk and the covering of the grain, while the grain, which is heavier, falls back down to the earth. It’s a pretty ingenious way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nowadays we do all this with our big machines. But, in the ancient days, this would be one of the methods used to purify the grain.
Now, John the Baptist says that the Messiah is going to do that with the human race. He is going to separate the wheat from the chaff, and he will do so with his ptuon, his winnowing fan. So, we all want to be the grain, right? Not the chaff. We want to be gathered into the Lord’s barn and not burned in the fire.
So, what do we need to do? We need to become nice and heavy so that when the wind blows, we fall back down. Now, I’m tempted to say that we should all just eat lots of Christmas cookies and we will get nice and heavy. But, that’s not the kind of heavy we are talking about. Rather, we need to become substantial. In our character, in our conduct, in our actions, we need to be people of substance. To me, there is nothing lighter and more insubstantial than sin, selfishness, ego, pride, etc. These things are light and fluffy, and they will be carried away by the wind. But, charity, goodness, kindness, love, these things are substantial and heavy. These won’t be blown away by the wind.
So, in our prayer this week, we can ask God to show us the places where we are light and fluffy, we want these to be blown away by the wind of the Holy Spirit. And we can ask God to help us increase in our goodness, kindness, love, and humility. These are the heavy things that will last. Advent is a time to be ready for the ptuon of Christ. May we become good grain, gathered into the Lord’s keeping.