Baptism of Our Lord

Good News: The Chaff's Gonna Burn

Good News: The Chaff's Gonna Burn

I laughed when I read the gospel in the lectionary last week.

John the Baptist often has that kind of effect on me, which may be the point. I don’t laugh out of ridicule or mockery. Rather, John wakes me to the unexpected and absurd nature of good news.

The laughter was specifically centered on a verse actually skipped by the lectionary, a non-important juncture, so it would seem, in the flow of the story of our Lord’s baptism.

I read it anyway.

Right after telling us about chaff burning with unquenchable fire, John the Baptizer’s narrator says: “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18).

Is that not hilarious? I could not contain myself.

Oh yeah, One is coming, John said, who will baptize us with Spirit and fire—sounds pretty cool—and then, smackdown, this Coming One will separate chaff from the grain and BURN IT WITH FIRE.

Which is good news, Luke says.

What the heck about burning anything with unquenchable fire is supposed to be good news? When is unquenchable fire EVER good news?