Epiphany is an extension of Christmas. It's a "guess who" the Child born of Mary is? Epiphany was known as 'The Feast of the 3 Miracles." An antiphon for Epiphany mentions all 3: today a star led the Magi to the manger; today water was made into wine; today Christ consented to be baptized by John to save us (LW, 58, 357, fn. 5). Bit by bit the Lone Ranger-like question: "Who is this Manger-born man" is answered. So guess who? And for the answer we go to 1 of the 3 miracles celebrated at Epiphany: Jesus turning water into wine.
Paul Masson He is. "We sell no before it's time" was a slogan for Paul Masson wines from 1978-81. In our text, Jesus makes no wine before His time. Grammatically, His mother, who the text notes 'was there' at the wedding as opposed to Jesus and His disciples who "had been invited", could be warning Jesus of an impending embarrassment. Luther thought Mary was there "as the one arranging the wedding, the parties married being apparently her poor relatives or neighbors." But it wasn't social embarrassment only that Mary saw coming. The wine running out may have got the bridegroom involved in a monetary dispute, even being sued (Morris, 179). Whether the wine was about to or had run out, not even Jesus' own mother could get Him to change His time table. Like Paul Masson, Jesus makes no wine before His time.
So guess what? No matter how much we whine about Covid, politics, people, pain, boredom, or ennui, that doesn't move Jesus to make faster the wine of a solution. Let's be sharper still. If it's none of His mom's business, you can bet it's absolutely none of yours even though it's your pain, your person, your problem. "Duties are ours. Events are God's. It is ours to fill the water-pots. It is Christ's to make the water wine." The first part comes from 18th century Anglican clergyman Richard Cecil; the second from 19th century Anglican Bishop, J.C. Ryle. But Reformed, Third use of the Law-minded people emphasize the first part, duties are ours, rather than draw the Gospel comfort from Jesus being the winemaker. Guess who was like that? His mother. After Jesus addresses her not with harshness or disrespect but with distance, "Woman" as Cesar addressed his Cleopatra, He lets her know, "This is My affair not yours." Rather than be insulted, Mary turns to the servants saying, "Whatever He says, you must do it."
But wait a minute. What would the 5 disciples of John the Baptist, Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathaniel who were there be thinking? They had spent at least months as disciples of the one who neither feasted nor drank wine but instead lived in the wilderness on grasshoppers and wild honey. They'd been followers of a preacher of fire and brimstone. You know: the ax is at the root of the trees; chaff thrown into the fire; repent or perish. They had spent months following the man who dressed, ate, and lived austerity. Guess who's partying hearty now? Jesus. He's going to make about 900 bottles of the best wine. No wonder Jesus' enemies called Him a "winebibber and a glutton" (Lk. 7:34). So maybe He's not Paul Masson after all. Is this really a time for winemaking? Not in the eyes of John the Baptist and we could hardly think so in the eyes of John's disciples. Guess who else might have had a problem with this? Moses.
Jesus ain't Moses; He's greater. Our text ends, "This is the first sign Jesus performed." Turning water into wine was Jesus' first sign to an unbelieving world. Moses first sign that he spoke for the God of Israel to the unbelieving Pharaoh was turning the waters of the Nile into blood, even in their ponds and water pots. That's a great miracle, but Jesus turns water into wine, good wine, the best wine. Not Boon's Farm, Not Paul Masson, but Dom Perignon.
But guess what? There's deeper significance still. Moses handed down water to purify them, but these water rituals were never done. Sure they purified sinners from ceremonial uncleanliness and restored them to the worshipping community, but they also constantly reminded them of their sin and sinfulness. Jesus turns Moses' water for purification into the wine of joy. Who else but Jesus is Psalm 104 speaking of when it says, "He makes...wine that gladdens the heart of man" (14-15). Remember how the Christmas Gospel makes a sharp distinction between Moses and Jesus? "Of Jesus' fulness we have all received, ...grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
Now don't think Moses never did anything good with water. He parted the Red Sea for the OT Church and drowned her enemies in the returning waters. At Marah, when the people grumbled against Moses because the water was too bitter to drink, Moses prayed to God who showed him how to heal those waters (Ex. 15:23-25). And twice Moses brought water from a rock. Go home and read Ex. 17 and then 20, to see how the second time he did that it led to his sinning against the Lord and being disciplined by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. Bringing water from a rock for over 2 million thirsty people is a big miracle, but Paul says Jesus is greater still. He says Jesus was that Rock. He was the Rock that followed the OT Church in the wilderness. Follow Moses. Follow him religiously. By all means discipline yourself in a world ripening to rottenness and judgment so that you don't perish with it. But unless you drink from this Rock, you're toast. Even then guess what 1 Cor. 10 says?
In a word, it says some of the scariest things in the Bible. Paul writes, "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and they were all baptized into Moses ...They all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them--and that rock was Christ! Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness. Now these things took place...to warn us not to desire evil things the way they did. Do not become idolaters like some of them...'...And let us not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day 23,000 fell. Let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and so were destroyed by the serpents. And do not grumble, as some of them grumbled, and were destroyed by the destroyer. All these things that were happening to them ...were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come" (1-11).
We think that it is our shook up, divided, blasphemous, unbelieving world and even churches that indicate the end of the ages has come. Paul says around 58 A.D. that the end of the ages had come already then. Indeed, it came on the first Easter. The perfect, holy Jesus had been delivered over to suffering, crucifixion, damnation, and dying for our sins. He was raised for our justification, to prove the Father accepted His payment in our place, on Easter Sunday. That's when the end of the ages started. For almost 2 years we've been told by the world, politicians, media, and medicos that Covid was the pandemic they had been predicting since the 90's. This was the end of life as we knew it unless we did this, that, and this too. Well the end of life as we knew it, chased by Sin, hounded by Death, and scared by Satan, happened on Easter Sunday. And the victory over these end times comes to us through the same Means it came to the OT Church: Water and the Body and Blood of Christ.
But like the OT Church guess who is in danger of forfeiting the game of life by giving in to let us eat, drink, and be merry today because we may die of Covid tomorrow? Guess who's in danger of testing Christ by attributing who and who doesn't get Covid to anything or anyone other than the grace of God in Christ? Guess who is in danger of grumbling against God because life isn't going back to normal? Ah, but that ain't you, is it? That may be this or that person but surely not I Lord. No, it's you who are in danger of forfeiting, testing, or grumbling. Hear the next verse of 1 Cor. 10 if you doubt me: "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
Guess who I can definitively say is not standing firm? Me. I am doing the direct opposite of what Scripture and one of the Collects advices. Rather than letting the right Fear of God in whose hands alone is my life and death drive out a fear of man, disease, devil, and death, I'm letting the fear of these drive out the godly fear of God. I have more regard for the power of hand sanitizer than I do for the power of the God who turned water into wine. I have more trust in the power of doctors and medicines than I do in the power of the God who turned His Blood into Wine for me to drink, live, and live forever. And I look for more comfort, hope, love, and joy, in the world, in a world upon whom the end of the ages has come, then I do in the Lord whose first miracle, first sign to sinners, is to attend a wedding and make it even more joyful. Like Johnny Lee guess who is "looking for love in all the wrong places"?
Are you with me in this foolish and sad quest? You know how you can tell? If you come to church with the attitude of coming to a funeral, you're not coming here to meet the Lord of grace, gift, and joy. With funereal faith, the best you meet is Moses. At his best the lord of Law can turn bitter water into sweet; at his worst it's water into blood. Guess who's best isn't turning water into wine or even turning His Blood into the wine of Salvation? His best is doing what we prayed for in the Collect. "Governor of all things in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the prayers of your people, and grant us Your peace in our days." Guess who has been praying this exact prayer for over 16 centuries? Christians faced with war, famine, and pestilence. Christians facing the invasion of Muslims, the horrors of bubonic plague, and famines not where grocery stores shelves are lacking but the very fields are dead. Guess who was delivered from them all even if, maybe especially if, they died? Christians just like you. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after Epiphany (20220116); John 2:1-11