What chaff do we need to remove to become pure wheat before Jesus?

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

John the Baptist is a powerful image placed before us every Advent. We might want to say John the Baptist preparing for Christ is our model during Advent. In the Gospel today John announces judgment, and next Sunday’s Gospel tells us of Jesus bringing salvation. John’s first word announces his theme, “Repent.” In other words, John asks his listeners to turn their minds and hearts away from whatever they had as their goal and look only to God. The reason is because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In other words, Jesus the Messiah has already arrived. Everything about John shows that he himself has repented and turned away from everything to look only to God. He has nothing in the desert; he only has a garment of camel hair and whatever food he could find in the desert. John is living the very message he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Because John is obviously radiating God’s word, we heard that Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going to John. Normally it would be the reverse; they would all go to Jerusalem. Already with the preaching of John the Baptist there is something new in the air that is not in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore even the Pharisees and Sadducees come to John the Baptist and he reminds them that no matter what their dignity they too must repent and cannot just pretend to repent.

Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ (Matt 3:8-9)

Jesus came to save but if we reject Jesus then we bring judgment on ourselves. Therefore John says,

“Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 3:10)

John describes Jesus as a farmer threshing; at the threshing, the wheat and the chaff are separated. The farmer blows with his fan and the wheat which has weight and substance falls down to the floor while the chaff is blown away and will be burned. Those who do not have weight or substance in their repentance before Jesus bring a judgment on themselves. John is making it clear that now is a critical time. Repentance will save the situation. The baptism of John was a sign of repentance and turning from sin. (Some ideas above from Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1)

John makes it very clear that he is not the Messiah, he is only preparing for the coming of the Messiah.

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matt 3:11)

The baptism of John was only a water baptism as a sign of repentance from sin and did not give the Holy Spirit but Jesus’ baptism gives the Holy Spirit because Jesus is full of the Spirit.

Jesus is the one full of the Spirit prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that a shoot would sprout from the stump of Jesse and the Spirit of the Lord would rest on him. Jesse was the father of King David, and they are of the tribe of Judah. Jesus also is of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is the one on whom Isaiah sees resting,

a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord (Isa 11:2)

These are six gifts of the Spirit in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek translation adds a seventh gift of the Spirit, piety, resting on Jesus, the shoot sprouting from Jesse. Jesus had the fullness of these seven gifts of the Spirit and they are the seven gifts of the Spirit that the bishop prays we receive when we are confirmed. The bishop prays during confirmation,

“Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of right judgment and courage,
the Spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”

Not only does Isaiah see Jesus sprouting up in the tribe of Judah full of the Spirit but he also sees the time of Jesus as one when hopes are fulfilled. Isaiah describes this in an imaginative way as animals completely at peace with each other:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest (Isa 11:6-7)

Although imaginative language, it does describe something real, the difference that having Jesus in our life makes, which is the peace of pure wheat and no chaff in our hearts after repentance. What is the chaff in our lives that needs to be blown away and burnt so that we can stand before Christ as pure wheat? We believe that when we die we will have an immediate personal individual judgment – we call it the Particular Judgment - and at the end of time after the resurrection of all the dead there will be a general judgment on all of humanity - the Last Judgment - when we will see the consequences of the good we did or failed to do. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1021ff) What chaff do we need to repent of so that we will be ready for judgment?

A voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.’ (Matt 3:3)

When we remove the chaff and become pure wheat for God we have harmony and integrity in our life.

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them. (Isa 11:6)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2010

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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