Thursday, January 24, 2019

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 20, 2019
Text: John 2:1-11

            Wine in abundance is a sign that Messiah has come.  No room for teetotalling in the Bible.  The Prophets Joel and Amos both preach that in that Day (the Day of Messiah), “the mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13; ESV).  The rest of the prophets concur.  Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Old Ben was not a very good theologian, but on this one, he’s close.  Wine is proof that God loves us and gives us His Son.  So it is that Jesus comes to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mountains drip sweet wine.  Our Lord speaks and water becomes the very best wine.  We often call this Jesus’ first miracle, but it’s so much more than a miracle, and that is not what St. John calls it.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:11; emphasis added).  St. John calls it a sign, not a miracle.  In other words, it’s not just an impressive magic trick.  It is a sign of who Jesus is.  It is a sign that Messiah has come and our salvation has arrived.  Wine in abundance, dripping from the mountains, is proof that God has made good on His Promise.  He has sent us a Savior.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory,” manifested, a word related to Epiphany.  He gave us an Epiphany that He is the Glory of God, God Himself, in the flesh.  And his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).  They believed the sign.  And so do you, for this sign is manifested for you as you hear it in Scripture and preaching this morning. 
            What is amazing is that this sign is performed for those who least deserve it.  Jesus gives the very best wine to a bunch of rowdy drunks.  To run out of wine at a wedding feast brings great shame on the bride and groom and their entire family.  It is also an indication that guests were lubricated to excess.  What the family thought to be more than sufficient was not enough for this crowd.  They were abusing their right to the family’s hospitality.  They were abusing God’s good gift of wine.  Wine is a gift, but drunkenness is sin.  The guests are three sheets to the wind.  The master of the feast is angry because custom has been broken.  Everyone knows that you serve the good wine first, and after the people have “drunk freely” (v. 10), that is, after they are plastered and their taste buds are numb, you bring out the cheap stuff.  But the wine Jesus provides is the very best.  The master of the feast does not know the wine came from Jesus, from the 6 stone water jars.  He thinks the family paid good money for it.  He is outraged over the extravagance, the expense undertaken for those who are incapable of appreciating it.  But isn’t that just like Jesus?  He gives the very best gifts to those who take Him for granted, who despise His gifts and abuse them.  Still, He gives, and He gives in abundance.  The jars held twenty to thirty gallons each!  No more danger of running out.  Even this crowd would have trouble burning through that.  The mountains drip sweet wine.  Jesus gives wine to drunks.[1]  And in this way He manifests His glory, and His disciples believe in Him.
            It is not by accident that this sign takes place at a wedding.  Actually, this is the fulfillment of the Prophet Hosea’s ministry.  Remember Hosea?  We should talk more about him.  His name is related to the Name of Jesus.  Hosea means “salvation”, just as Jesus means “The LORD saves”.  God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and in this way the prophet’s marriage becomes a sign of YHWH’s marriage to Israel.  Gomer is unfaithful.  She runs away from her husband.  She goes back to prostitution.  She sells herself to other men.  Just like Israel, “whoring” after other gods (the Bible’s words, not mine… Lev. 20:5-6; Ez. 6:9; Hosea 4:18; and numerous other examples).  But Hosea goes out to find Gomer.  He redeems her.  Literally, he buys her back, for fifteen shekels of silver.  Can you imagine, a broken-hearted husband slogging through the gutters of the red light district to find his unfaithful bride, having to pay for her to come back to him?  But he loves her.  And Hosea is a picture of our God and what He does for His beloved Israel, His beloved Church, what He does for us.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  We are unfaithful to our Divine Bridegroom.  We whore after other gods.  We sell ourselves to the pleasures of this world.  Drunk and full of lust, we take our Lord for granted, despise His gifts and abuse them.  But He comes after us.  He comes for us, God in the flesh, God in man made manifest, to redeem us, to buy us back, not for fifteen shekels of silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He pays with His very life for us to come back to Him, to live with Him, to be His Bride.  Because He loves us.  God shows his love for us,” St. Paul writes, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Christ is our Hosea.  We are His Gomer.  We are unfaithful, but He is faithful, to us and to God, for us and in our place. 
            Now, this is what it means to be married to Christ.  What is ours is His, and what is His is ours.  That is how it works in marriage.  All that belongs to the Bride becomes the Bridegroom’s.  All that belongs to the Bridegroom becomes the Bride’s.  Jesus takes upon Himself all our sin and uncleanness, our unfaithfulness, our idolatry, lust, and drunkenness, and He pays the penalty for all of it.  He takes our death and condemnation and all that goes along with it, our weakness and sickness and sadness, and puts it to death in His flesh on the cross.  In the meantime, we get all His righteousness, eternal life, salvation, and every good and gracious gift bestowed upon us by our God.  Luther says all of this is sealed by the wedding ring of faith.  Faith makes all of these things our own.  St. Paul writes about this in Ephesians, chapter 5, when he tells husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vv. 25-27).  As Jacob met Rachel at the well, so our Lord meets His Bride, the Church, at the well of the Font, where He gives us the wedding ring of faith.  And we are made clean, holy, spotless with the splendor of His holiness.  It is as Isaiah prophesied in our Old Testament reading: “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is. 62:5).  You are beautiful to God.  You are precious in His eyes.
            So our Lord does the first of His signs at a wedding, and in this way He woos us to believe in Him and be His Bride.  And so also He honors holy marriage as a blessed institution, given by God in the Garden even before our first parents fell into sin.  One man, one woman, united in love and fidelity as long as they both shall live.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  Our Holy Gospel is a great comfort for husbands and wives, because just as Christ was present for the couple in Cana, so He is present in your marriage.  And He gives wine.  He gives joy.  He gives the Holy Spirit.  Even when you abuse His good gifts.  In fact, especially when you abuse His good gifts.  He is there, in the hard times as well as the good, in every argument, in every heartache, and even in your infidelities.  His Promise sustains your marriage, and He gives you joy.  He gives you to delight in one another.  He gives you to delight in Him.  So also our Holy Gospel is a great comfort to single people.  There were undoubtedly unmarried people at the wedding, singles and widows and maybe even divorcees.  They also get the wine.  Jesus, who is not married… He’s saving Himself for His Bride, the Church… is at the wedding for single people, too.  Being single does not make you less of a person, less of a guest at the Feast, or any less forgiven and redeemed and precious before God.  Singles have a particular cross to bear for as long as God gives them to bear it.  But you also get the wine.  And what is ultimately true for every one of you, single or married, child or adult, husband, wife, widow, or divorcee, is this: Jesus is your Bridegroom.  You are married to Jesus.  He is faithful to you.  He has redeemed you.  And all that belongs to Him, belongs to you.  All of it.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus who loves you.  For though His hour had not yet come at the wedding in Cana, it would come soon enough, on Calvary, where He shed His blood and gave His life to make you His own.
            On the third day there was a wedding,” writes St. John, and there is more going on here than meets the eye.  The Holy Ghost chooses His Words very carefully.  On the third day Jesus rises from the dead.  On third day there is a wedding.  On the third day the preparations are complete.  The Bride, who was once a drunken Gomer, has been washed in water and the Word, and robed in the righteousness of Jesus.  The Bridegroom has prepared a Feast for His Bride, and at this Feast there is wine in abundance.  Here He manifests His glory.  Here His disciples believe in Him.  Beloved in the Lord, you are the Bride, and Jesus woos you.  Come to His Table.  Eat and drink, and rejoice.  The Bridegroom who loves you has arrived.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] For this recurring phrase I’m indebted to the Rev. David Petersen.

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