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New Wine, New Joy

January 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Each of us probably has the memory of a wedding – outside of our own – that was an example of a true and honest celebration of the union of love. Not an orchestrated show of “Bride’s Wars”, where parents attempt to out-do the neighbor’s or cousin’s last production; but a coming together of family and community in a spirit of support and love that honors the commitment two people are making to each other. Even in ancient history like we hear in Isaiah this morning, where such celebrations were much more about commitments between families and social orders than they were about two people finding love between each other, the celebration was all about binding the two into one. It was tradition. Now, “Tradition” was much more than a song from “Fiddler on the Roof” and I’m hoping you get the idea of it before I break into singing “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…” So while the prophet speaks of the promise God makes to Israel in the same manner as a bridegroom does to his bride, the people experience it in the context of a tradition that is to be celebrated and honored. This image of a wedding has been used for thousands of years to portray God uniting with the soul.

Now it’s important to note that these proclamations in our first lesson are from the latter years of Isaiah – where most biblical scholars have determined the theme of a savior is projected into the future. Here is where the prophets begin looking ahead for hope and not in the immediate group of heirs to the throne. It’s important because John’s Gospel ties in this theme of a marriage promise with the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry and his first miracle directly influences the success of a wedding celebration. John picks up where this prophecy of Isaiah leaves off. By providing a miracle, Jesus announces his arrival with a display of what God has in store for us.

The lead-in to this story can appear to be a bit disrespectful from a son or daughter’s point of view. When Mom brings something to our attention, most of us would not dare react with an attitude which can seem to be portrayed as “Woman!!” What we have to keep in mind here is that the word used in scripture at the time was a very endearing term. “Woman” was a word filled with respect, admiration, and love. And the response of Jesus that “my hour has not yet come” must be imagined as a more caring attitude of “Okay, Mom, thanks for the heads-up, but I’ll handle this my own way.” Looking at the situation in this context we can see several things. First off, Mary probably had a relationship to the bride and groom beyond being a guest. She knew what the situation was and bore some sort of authority that allowed her to be aware of the situations behind the bar and in the kitchen. The last thing she would want to do in this situation – is leave the newly-wed couple and their families embarrassed and disgraced – by not having enough supplies to satisfy the guests while they were still around. Her comment gives a hint of what God can do. In our present day where we place limits on everything, there would have been a set hour at which time people were expected to leave. If the stock behind the bar runs out, guests would be expected to accept what was left or be understanding and make their way home. In this story’s place and time as long as the guests were around it was understood that they would be provided for. The rabbis had a saying “Where there is no wine, there is no joy!” The joy would indeed be ended for this couple if there were no more wine.

Secondly, Mary was also acutely aware of her son’s nature and his relationship with God. He was thirty-something at this point. Clearly, she had intimately shared his faith and witnessed his actions that spread God’s abundance in every aspect of their lives. Mary’s faith in him is strong enough to know he will do the right thing – and so instructs the waiters to “do what he tells you.” Jesus’s response was more of an acknowledgement that help is needed than a refusal of wanting to help. I can almost hear him giving a big sigh and thinking “Okay, Mom’s right. Now is the time.” He then points to the stone jars, and directs the staff to “fill them.” Maybe it was that nudge from Mom, maybe not, but he uses the situation to take charge and begin the ministry that will change the world.

Finally, we, too find out just what was planned for the world; something which at the time only Jesus and perhaps his mother knew. John tells this story in part to show how God’s plan is to make remarkable things out of ordinary objects. What started with empty vessels results in something better than anyone could have expected; things so great that even experts like the chief steward had never experienced them before. John also points to God’s overflowing abundance and grace in places we may never bother to look. Around us there may appear to be nothing. Emptiness, scarcity, nothing left on the table or in the kitchen. Then somehow we get a hint, a nudge, a familiar touch that says “do what I tell you”. We look around and suddenly things that were ordinary are producing extraordinary things. We can look upon the faith Mary had in Jesus – and know that the possibilities are endless. What was once empty is now not only full, but spilling over in ways we’ve never quite experienced. Through our encounter with Jesus, we’re learning what God has in store for us. It may not always be what we expect or what we’ve had previously, but if God’s idea of providing for us is shown by the progress from empty – to water – to wine, then indeed the rabbis will be full of joy; and so will we! Amen.
re: RCL 2 Epiphany, Year C

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