Journey to the Manger – Winnowing

His Winnowing Fork Is in His Hand

 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:11-12 (New Revised Standard Version)
Farmer winnowing tef in Bochessa, Ethiopia
Farmer winnowing tef in Bochessa, Ethiopia

John the Baptist and the Other Prophets

This passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew is an excerpt from the readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A. In this passage, John the Baptist makes his appearance, admonishing the people to repent because the realm of God is at hand. These two verses are part of his words excoriating the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a “brood of vipers.” He goes on to say that someone is coming after him with a winnowing fork in his hand.

What is a winnowing fork and what does it mean to winnow? Winnowing is the process of separating wheat grains from their husks. A winnowing fork is used to throw the grains into the air and let the wind do the work of getting rid of the lighter husks while the heavier grains fall back to the ground for recovery. We see the Hebrew prophets repeatedly using winnowing as a metaphor, often in a negative context. God is going to cast people away like chaff (husks) or the enemies of Israel will be scattered like chaff. John the Baptist appears to be following the example of his predecessors when calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Unfortunately, this metaphor is often used as a justification for exclusion, for defining who is “in” and who is “out.” Growing up I was taught that some people were going to be thrown into the fire and burned up like the discarded husks. Usually, this was anyone who wasn’t like us. However, I would like to think about winnowing in a more positive light.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Deciding to follow Jesu is not a one-time ecstatic conversion experience. Rather, following Jesu is a conscious, deliberate decision that we make every day, every hour, every minute. Every day, we seek to become more like Jesu. Part of that ongoing process is the shedding of what keeps us bound to old patterns and old ways of living; we need to separate ourselves from the husks. St. Paul says that we should renew our minds (Romans 12:2). In the same letter, St. Paul speaks of laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (Romans 13:12). In what sounds a lot like the wisdom of Appalachian matriarchs I grew up around, the Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz writes “The Beloved sometimes wants to do us a great favor: Hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out.” This is a perfect description of winnowing. It’s not a once-and-done sort of thing, but something that happens daily (or more often). The winnowing away of what keeps us from God is a concept we hear about a lot during Lent, but remember that Advent also calls us to examine our lives and renew our relationships with the Divine. It’s often not easy or pain-free, but growth often requires some effort and maybe a little tough love.

For Reflection

Sometimes letting go of the husks in our lives can be painful. What are/have been the husks in your life? What keeps you from following Jesu? What do you need to shed in order to grow spiritually?

Header Image by CANDICE CANDICE from Pixabay
Ethiopian Farmer image by Ryan Kilpatrick, used under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 2.0

Journey to the Manger – Welcome

This is a series of Advent reflections on a different word each day. The prompts are from Advent Word, an offering of Forward Movement, a ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Welcome – A Way of Life, an Expression of Faith

hands joined over a map of the world

As a way of life, an act of love, an expression of faith, our hospitality reflects and anticipates God’s welcome. Simultaneously costly and wonderfully rewarding, hospitality often involves small deaths and little resurrections. By God’s grace we can grow more willing, more eager, to open the door to a needy neighbor, a weary sister or brother, a stranger in distress. Perhaps as we open that door more regularly, we will grow increasingly sensitive to the quiet knock of angels. In the midst of a life-giving practice, we too might catch glimpses of Jesus who asks for our welcome and welcomes us home.

– Christine Pohl

I was struggling with what to write about welcome. Then I found this quote from Christine Pohl that says it much better than I.

Image containing the Christine Pohl from the beginning of the post

Questions for Reflection

  • Is there a place where you feel welcomed and valued?
  • Have you ever experienced a lack of welcome or outright hostility?
  • How do you welcome the other, especially some who looks different, believes differently, or loves differently from you?

Image accompanying quote by Ralph from Pixabay
Header Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Christine Pohl quote image from

Journey to the Manger – Rain

God Comes Down Like Rain

Rain falling on grass

Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.

Hosea 6:3 (New Revised Standard Version)

It is a cool, gray day here in the hills of East Tennessee, a day heavy with the promise of rain, so today’s word is a timely one. Living in a region where the winter holiday season is more defined by rain than snow, I find rain to be quite an apt descriptor of the season of Advent. Apparently, I’m in good company because several authors of the Hebrew scriptures use rain showers as a metaphor to describe the coming of God.

Ah, a gentle cleansing rain shower …

Obviously, rain is water. Water is necessary for life; we can last for some time without food, but we can’t survive very long without water. We’ve heard a lot about water lately, more specifically the lack of clean drinking water in many places. Many parts of the world are experiencing drought conditions. People affected by these understand longing for relief all too well.

The prophet Malachi writes “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2a) As rain waters the parched earth and allows the fields to produce, God’s arrival among us brings joy, healing, reconciliation, and life. Those same rains can really shake things up, as we who live in storm-prone parts of the US well know.

… or maybe not

The “spring rains” Hosea speaks of can be a harrowing experience; damaging spring storms can leave us feeling uprooted, displaced, and wondering what happened. In a similar way, God’s appearance is often disturbing, causing sudden, radical change. The uniting of heaven and earth in the Incarnation brings a major paradigm shift. God comes down off the mountain and lives among us; now no longer only a transcendent and distant figure, God is intimately present.

An encounter with God deeply changes us, whether it is like the gentle rains that water the earth and provide sustenance for us or like the mighty storms that uproot everything in our lives. Zechariah’s, Elizabeth’s, Mary’s, and Joseph’s lives were changed when God suddenly appeared in their lives. Many of those whom we call “saints” were likewise radically changed after an encounter with God. The early followers of Jesu were said to have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). God’s entry into human existence changes everything!

Questions for Reflection

  • What does the idea of rain mean to you in the context of Advent?
  • How has an encounter with God changed you?
  • Have you experienced the presence of God as a gentle, healing rain?
  • Has an encounter with God felt like a storm that left you unsettled and feeling uprooted?

Header image by Thomas from Pixabay
Psalm image by -MECO- from Pixabay