Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace

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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:6-16  +  John 2:1-11

You want to know who Jesus is? Every word of the Old Testament Scriptures tells you that, from Genesis to Malachi. Every phrase, every story, every account of God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s wrath, God’s favor, God’s punishment, God’s forgiveness, every law given to Israel, every sacrifice, every prophecy about the coming Christ—it all reveals who Jesus is.

But now that He has come in the flesh, now that He has been baptized and tempted and heralded by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, now that He has just met and called His first little band of disciples—five in all—how will He introduce Himself to them? How will He set the tone for His ministry?

He’ll attend a wedding with His disciples, and with His mother, and there He will reveal many things about who He is and what we should of Him.

The Son of God goes to a wedding. And a wedding reception. He “rejoices with those who rejoice,” as Paul wrote to the Romans. The time will come for Jesus to go to the synagogue, to preach on the mountain, to weep with those who weep, and to give His life on the cross. But there is also time to honor God’s institution of marriage between a man and a woman, to do this act of love for the bride and groom whom He knew personally and who had invited Him to their wedding, and to participate in the celebration of God’s earthly gifts. Jesus is no Stoic Messiah, no somber, stone-hearted saint. He does not despise the earthly, material blessings that God has given. He celebrates them.

The celebration was about to take a sad turn, though, as they ran out of wine too early. Not a major crisis by any means. But wine was simply a part of feasting, of celebrating among the Israelites. It was a symbol of joy and happiness and of God’s abundance providence for His people. It was a good gift. And like all good gifts, it could certainly be abused, as it still is today, but it didn’t have to be abused. It could be rightly used for joyful celebration.

What would the bridegroom do, if it became known that he was too poor or too cheap to provide enough wine for his guests? Mary thought she had an answer. She suspected that Jesus might wish to do something about it, so she informed Him of the shortage. She had good reason to expect that He might do something about it, since He had walked away from her home in Nazareth only a couple of months earlier to officially begin His God-given service. Here He was, with His first five disciples. Maybe this was His hour to shine.

It wasn’t. Not really. Jesus replied, Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. John’s Gospel mentions Jesus’ “hour” several times. Every time, it was, “My hour has not yet come,” not yet come, not yet come, right up until Holy Week, when, finally, Jesus announced to His disciples, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” But when Jesus said, “glorified,” He meant glorified in His sacrificial death on the cross. That was the “hour” that Jesus’ whole life was leading up to.

It hadn’t come yet, here at the beginning of His ministry. But a little hour had come: the time for beginning to reveal His divine majesty and glory, very quietly, very discreetly, to a very small group of people, including His disciples. Mary, again, suspected that Jesus would do something, so she told the servants, Whatever He says to you, do it.

He told the servants to fill six large pots with water—roughly 150 gallons worth. Then He told them to draw some and take it to the master of the feast, so that he could test it and either give it his seal of approval to be served to the guests, or spit it out in disgust. You know what happened. The water had been miraculously changed into wine, and not just mediocre wine, but, “the good stuff,” as the master of the feast declared it.

What does that reveal about Jesus? If you set aside your experience with SyFy, with Harry Potter and other stories of magic, and just stop and think about the miracle of taking regular H2O and turning it into a product of grapes that have grown on a vine, been harvested, squeezed, and properly fermented, without any of that having ever happened, without any hocus-pocus or incantations or magic wands, just with the power of a thought, of a word—that’s who Jesus is, the Creator of water and earth and grapes and the fermentation process itself. Truly Jesus manifested His glory with this miracle, as St. John writes.

How different this miracle was from the changing of water into a red substance back at the time of Moses. God granted Moses the power to change water into blood as the first plague against the Egyptians. That power was mimicked by the dark forces of the devil as he enabled the magicians in Egypt to do the same thing. Water into blood. Something good into something harmful, something horrible, something disgusting and deadly.

See the contrast in Jesus’ first miracle! He hasn’t come to threaten or to coerce or to punish. He hasn’t come to bring condemnation on the world. He has come to save it. He has come to help, not to harm. He takes something good and turns it into something far better, something joyful, something pleasant and good. St. Paul exhorted the Romans in the Epistle: Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them. He who gives, let him give with liberality, with generosity. That’s Jesus.

Just a few verses before our Gospel begins, St. John already gave us the summary statement of who Jesus is: 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.

Grace—God’s abundant generosity, His undeserved love that overflows toward sinners, who deserve only His wrath and punishment. Jesus has come, not to overlook sin or to excuse sin, but to suffer for it, to make up for it, to call sinners to repentance. And not so that we can go around with a frown on our face all day long or beating our chest in sorrow all the time. We should sorrow, we should mourn over our sins, but the goal is not to mourn. The goal to rejoice in God’s forgiveness, earned and handed out freely by Jesus. That’s what He reveals by the miracle at Cana’s wedding feast as the pattern and purpose of His ministry. Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. Amen.

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