It’s the first Sunday in Epiphany, and churches everywhere will hear a reading about the baptism of Jesus. Kids in Sunday school will be making paper doves and talking about the Holy Spirit. But as I was reading the lesson, it wasn’t the water, or the dove, or the voice from heaven that made the biggest impression. It was the fire.
Fire? In baptism? Well, you have to read the intro. The wild and woolly John the Baptist was being talked about as the Messiah, the long-awaited king of the Jews. John told the crowds that he wasn’t the guy. Someone else was coming, and John wasn’t worthy to untie his shoes. Not only that, but the real guy would
“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.”
Winnowing forks are old school, but most of us can relate to sorting the paper mail, tossing the junk and outer envelopes into the recycling bin. (Maybe someone should make recycling bins for Christians, labelled “Chaff”.)
Suddenly, with that modern analogy in mind, burning the chaff is a liberating thought. The unquenchable fire isn’t the fire of hell, with Jesus sorting the good people from the bad people. It’s a fire of cleansing, burning away the parts of your psyche and your life that are junk, that hide the Good Stuff inside, where the Holy Spirit is.
And that, dear reader, is an epiphany.