A taste of joy here below

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Sermon for Epiphany 2

Romans 12:6-16  +  John 2:1-11

From the time of Jesus’ birth until the wedding feast at Cana, there had already been so many amazing revelations about Him: how He was conceived of a virgin in the first place, the manger that served as His bed, the sky of Bethlehem filled with angels and the angels’ words to the shepherds, the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem and presented their gifts, Simeon and Anna’s praise of a little baby, the flight to Egypt to escape from King Herod, the twelve year old Boy in the Temple who astounded the teachers with His divine wisdom, the Father’s voice from heaven and the Spirit’s descent like a dove at Jesus’ Baptism. And now this—that Jesus should choose a wedding banquet, of all places, to reveal His divine power over the creation by changing water into wine.

Jesus had been recently baptized. He’d been tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. He’d been acclaimed by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and He’d called His first few disciples, including Nathanael.

You remember Nathanael? Philip had found his friend Nathanael sitting under a fig tree and told him that he and those other first disciples had found the Christ. Nathanael didn’t believe it was possible, but then he went to see Jesus and Jesus told him how He saw him while he was sitting under the fig tree, even though Jesus wasn’t there to see it. That little revelation of Jesus’ omniscience convinced Nathanael that Jesus was the Christ, the King of Israel. And Jesus told him, Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The “greater things” began on the very next day as they attended this wedding banquet in Cana. And here already we see a striking difference between Jesus and John the Baptist. John, if you remember, lived outside of society, in the wilderness, alone, dressed in uncomfortable clothes, with insects for his diet. John has been pointing people to Jesus as the true Prophet, the Christ. But Jesus didn’t act like John in many ways. Here’s Jesus participating in human society, spending His time celebrating at a wedding banquet.

That, in itself, was a revelation, a manifestation, an epiphany, and one that John the Baptist himself alluded to when he referred to himself as just the friend of the Bridegroom, while Jesus Himself was the Bridegroom. Jesus has, indeed, come to celebrate a wedding—the wedding between Himself and His holy Christian Church, whom He first had to cleanse with His own blood in Holy Baptism in order to make her spotless and acceptable to God, as Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 5. So of course Jesus doesn’t shy away from a wedding invitation. Human marriage is a picture of the whole purpose for Jesus’ coming.

On a more mundane note, we shouldn’t miss the fact that Jesus’ attendance at this wedding banquet also expresses His approval of the institution of marriage in general—God’s approval. Of course He approves! He instituted marriage in the beginning and has never changed His design for it. Even in these last days, marriage isn’t to be looked down on. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Marriage is to be held in honor by all, and the marriage bed kept pure. It is still God’s plan and purpose for society, that one man and one woman come together till death do them part, that they love and support one another, that they raise godly children, and that sexual relations be reserved for marriage alone. That’s the union that God instituted and that Jesus blessed with His presence and still smiles upon, not the godless misuse that covers our land today. You and I are more and more surrounded by a culture that rejects the divine definition of marriage, the divine purpose and description of marriage. Christians may have even participated in that rejection of God’s purpose for marriage, but, as St. Paul writes, you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. And as Paul said in last week’s Epistle, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. But know, at the same time, that that will make you part of an ever increasing minority in the world, even in your own country. If you honor marriage as God ordained it, you will appear very strange in the eyes of the world around you. Learn to embrace that strangeness as Christians!

Back to our Gospel itself. There was a need that came up during the course of this banquet—and understand that these Jewish wedding banquets often lasted more than one day. They ran out of wine too early. Maybe it was poor planning. More likely, it was a poor family that couldn’t afford to buy enough to last till the end. A little shame would have been suffered by the bride and groom at the outset of their marriage for running out of wine at the banquet. But in the grand scheme of things, it was a small need, a minor problem. No one needs wine.

But Mary informs Jesus of the need anyway. She seems to suspect that He isn’t only here to socialize and to put His seal of approval on marriage. He’s been baptized now. He’s been tempted in the wilderness. He’s become a Rabbi and gathered His first few disciples, who are there at the banquet with Him. So she intercedes for the wedding party.

In fact, this intercession on the part of Mary is seen by some Roman Catholics as a reason to pray to Mary about their own needs, hoping she’ll intercede for them, just as she did here for the bride and groom, and hoping that Jesus will take her intercession into account and act to help them, out of reverence for His mother.

But, why does she intercede for the wedding party? Why don’t they go to Him directly? Because they don’t know Him directly yet as the Son of God, as Mary does. They don’t know Him as the Savior sent from God. He’s only beginning to reveal Himself to the world. And so she intercedes for those who don’t yet know Him rightly, not for those who do. Because all who know Christ, who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. No one is closer to Him than another. He hears all of His people equally.

What we may learn from this account, though, as those who do know Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man, is to do as Mary did and to intercede for those who don’t yet know Him rightly. To pray for His mercy and help for unbelievers, or for those who were baptized, but have fallen into the delusion of false doctrine so that they no longer know Christ as they should know Him.

Jesus’ response to Mary at first seems strange. Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. He seems to decline to help. But what it shows us is that Jesus doesn’t have to perform this miracle. It isn’t His “concern.” It isn’t His business. God’s Law doesn’t call upon Him to supply extra wine for a wedding party. So the fact that He chooses to do it shows His abundant grace and favor.

Furthermore, He refers to His “hour,” meaning His hour to reveal His glory. John’s Gospel records many of those references, all of them leading up to Holy Week, when the real “hour” would come for Jesus to be glorified before the eyes of all, not by performing a miracle, but by willingly offering Himself up on the cross as the payment for the world’s sins. That hour would be the full uncovering of His true glory and the fulfillment of His purpose in coming to earth. He didn’t come to replenish the supply of wine.

And yet He does it anyway. You heard in the Gospel how He did it. He told the servants to fill the water jars with water—gallons and gallons of it. And suddenly it wasn’t water anymore. It was wine. This was a supernatural act of divine creation—taking H2O molecules and turning them into something else, into fermented and aged grape wine, and fine wine at that, as if the best grapes had been grown and squeezed and the juice fermented under the watchful eye of a master winemaker. Freely, under no obligation, easily, with nothing but a word, Jesus provided the bride and groom and all the wedding guests with an abundance of wine, with a taste of joy.

In the Psalms it says, The Lord brings forth wine that makes glad the heart of man. In the Scripture, wine is tied to joy and a merry heart. Yes, the abuse of it is condemned, but not the use. It’s a symbol of God’s grace and favor, of God’s abundance, of joy and celebration. And what could better describe the reason for which Jesus came. As John told us back in chapter 1, And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. This first miracle performed by Jesus reveals His grace. It reveals that He truly came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He has come to proclaim the Gospel—the Good News that Christ has come to save sinners. This first miracle makes Jesus approachable to poor sinners, because they can see that He has come to help, to bless, to save. As Jesus would later say, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

That’s the lesson Jesus’ disciples were to learn, and only a few others at that time—the servants who filled the jars with water—because this miracle wasn’t done in full view of the public; hardly anyone knew about it. But the Holy Spirit saw to it that we would find out through His inspired Scriptures, so that you would know that you, a poor, miserable sinner, will find God’s grace and favor with Jesus whenever you come to Him in repentance, seeking His forgiveness. This, after all, is God in your midst. He is hidden, but if you look closely you will see your God acting. Everything He will do is for your good. Everything He will do is for your salvation, and even for your enjoyment. Some things you will enjoy here on earth. But most of the celebration awaits the heavenly wedding banquet, where He, the Bridegroom who has brought you into the body of His Church by Holy Baptism, will provide everything in perfect measure.

For now, your God offers to His Bride, the Church, a Sacrament of bread and wine, of sustenance and gladness, of the forgiveness of sins, of His true body and blood—a miracle of a different kind, not visible to the eye, but revealed only to faith. Let it sustain you here, as you wait for Christ to be revealed in glory. Let it provide you with a taste of joy here below and remind you of the great wedding banquet above! Amen.

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