Sunday, January 16, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Director of Youth Ministries
Last week, we heard about the Jesus with whom God was well pleased, the Beloved Son of God …. This week, I present to you the Jesus who talks back to his mother and loves good wine. The irony is not lost on me that I stand here as the Director of Youth Ministries about to preach about a God who likes to party, but hear me out.
Our passage starts out with Jesus, his mother, and his disciples at a wedding in Cana, and the wine has run out. Jesus’ mother is concerned and thinks that he should be too. Although he blows it off first, it turns out that mother knows best, and Jesus was actually concerned with the wine situation. He asks some of the servants to fill jars with water and transforms the water into an abundance of the highest quality wine. 180 gallons of it to be exact.
Whew, what a miracle! The wine was out but now everyone’s got plenty. It’s worth noting, though, that the Gospel writer doesn’t actually call this miracle. Instead, he calls this moment the first of Jesus’ signs. In fact, the whole Gospel of John is filled with signs of Jesus as opposed to miracles. How are signs different from miracles? A miracle is some kind of extraordinary wonder only intended to awe and astound, but a sign is different because it actually points us to something.
Signs mark something. Think of a road sign that tells us what lies ahead up the road. Or the signs we find in nature that show us a change in weather is coming, like a dark storm cloud that rolls in and alerts us to the coming wind and rain. Whether symbolic, ceremonial, natural, or even supernatural, they can be tokens of an important event or markers of a change to come.
So John was purposeful in calling these events signs, because they point us to some other larger truth. Which begs the question, “In this moment with water and wine and a wedding, what is the larger truth?” “Where does this sign point us?” Jesus’ doings that day signaled that something was coming, a change up ahead in the road. What once was will be no more.
As we just remembered a few weeks ago in Advent, the world was in rough shape. Political and religious divisions were high, there were false prophets and misguided teachers, pain and sin and chaos abounded. God’s people were running out of hope, wondering if this long-promised messiah was ever really coming. Did God even care about them or remember them anymore?
And just when this pressure cooker of despair seemed like it could have popped, Jesus arrives on the scene and throws a really good wedding with really good wine.
Wine and a wedding.
Wine. In Jesus’ day, wine meant life. In a time when water was scarce, wine was a necessity rather than a luxury. It was used medicinally, and seen as essential rather than extravagant. We see wine all over scripture, especially as a symbol of God’s blessing poured out for us.
Weddings. Since ancient times, weddings have been celebrations of the lifelong commitment between two people. That joyful moment when undeserved love is given and received and promised for all the days to come. In our Old Testament Lesson today, we got to hear about a wedding. As we just heard, Isaiah paints a picture of the wedding between God and God’s people. It’s a moment of celebration when the Creator is bound to the Created with mutual love and rejoicing. Clearly, this passage is also a sign. It serves as a symbol of the joy and celebration associated with the salvation of God’s people, a picture of God’s commitment to God’s people and refusal to abandon them.
This deeper symbolism of wine and weddings helps us understand that what’s in our passage today was more than a super cool trick. Think about it. The wine was all dried up and the party was about to be over. Then, Jesus provides an abundance of the best there is, enough for everyone and more, and restarts the wedding feast. Similarly, the hope of God’s people was drying up and people were ready to give up, but at this moment at the wedding he shows them who he is and what’s in store, the change that is just up ahead. An even bigger wedding, with even better wine.
This sign was merely a marker and a foretaste. I imagine him saying, “You think this wine is good? I’m just getting started. I will provide you with an abundance of the best wine, the drink of new and everlasting life. And we’ll drink it at the best wedding feast of all. Ours. There will be rejoicing and celebration because our marriage, the union of God and God’s people, will be your salvation. You can’t see it clearly yet, but here’s a little glimpse of what’s to come.”
This sign is simple, but the meaning is profound. It’s just a fun party with good wine, yet it’s also the culmination of God’s story and our story. Theologian Marianne Thompson says that this moment is really a forward movement from the hope and expectation in scripture to its provision in the coming age. The hope and expectation in scripture, that hope of salvation and expectation of God’s abundant blessings, moving towards its provision, its realization, in the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God. He turns the plain and the mundane, mere water, into a tangible sign of God’s unending faithfulness, of God’s refusal to abandon God’s people.
I wonder if any of us can relate to the first century folks who felt as if God had forgotten them, whose wine had just about dried up. It has been quite the two years and we are tired. Tired of making a plan only to modify it twelve more times, tired of worrying about worrying too much or caring too little, tired of watching folks still getting sick, and lives still being lost. Tired of feeling dried up. God, do you care? Do you even remember us?
Just as Jesus did with his people before, he keeps on doing with us. When we are dried up and watching the world around us seemingly fall apart, Jesus is transforming our mundane water into life giving wine.
Sometimes we may catch glimpses of this. Jesus steps in in such a way that it catches our attention and reorients us. Perhaps you have recently seen a display of the beauty of creation or the joy of new life, experienced the grace of undeserved forgiveness, or witnessed the power of love overcoming hate or justice prevailing over evil. What a gift it is to notice these moments, the road signs along the way.
But other times, that dried up feeling might be too much. Life, in its hardest of seasons, can have the ability to overwhelm, making these glimpses a little harder to catch.
Here’s the good news. Our being able to see or not see doesn’t change a thing. The work of salvation has been done. God came for us, God is with us, and God is making all things new until that final day when Christ comes again. The wine has started flowing for us and all God’s people, whether we realize it or not.
God hasn’t forgotten us, even when we start to wonder. There are signs along the way, even when we can’t see. A party’s coming, just up ahead, the grandest wedding feast for the marriage of heaven and earth, where the wine of new life will abound, everyone will have their fill, and all things will be made new.