We continue Epiphany with Jesus first miracle – the wedding at Cana. There are a lot of different things the wedding at Cana has to teach us. So many that you can’t possibly cover it all in one sermon. It’s Jesus first miracle – you can consider the importance of miraculous signs –how they prove that he speaks with authority as the Son of God. . You can look at the relationship between Jesus and his mother – she only shows up twice in John’s gospel, both times he tenderly addresses her as “woman”, both times he cares for her. Here he takes care of the problem of no wine. When we see her again, he is on the cross, and commends her to the care of Saint John the apostle.
We can look at marriage – here Jesus blesses marriage by attending, and assisting in the wedding arrangements. The Lutheran fathers often take this approach. Marriage was not highly thought of in Luther’s day. He has that in common with our own, where it is so badly abused and misunderstood. God created marriage and families as a blessing, and we should highly esteem and honor them. The Epistle reading ties marriage into the life of Christ and his church. Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride. Those who object to and despise God’s plan for marriage says saint Paul, are really objecting to God and his people. They are rebelling not only against God’s creation, but against the redemption given in Christ as well.
This brings in the Gospel – the good news of forgiveness for Jesus sake. He died on the cross to redeem his bride the church. And we have in the wedding at Cana a large arrow pointing to that redemption. We have Christ, water, wine, wedding banquet. If we didn’t know for sure this was a miracle of Jesus, it could almost have been a parable – directing us to the truth that Jesus brings us the wine of gladness in place of the sorrow of our sin.
Any one of those topics could be an entire sermon – and many of them could be a sermon series.
Whatever the focus, this is a comforting and joyous Gospel reading. Jesus brings joy to the guests at a wedding. He gives new wine – the good stuff so that the celebration can continue instead of an embarrassing halt to the proceedings.
It would certainly be good if that were the case today. Jesus and the church there to give joy unending, good times, good friends, good food.
But if we think that is the point of the miracle, we have missed it. The 20th century apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Why would he say that? We have Jesus here making everything ok again. Isn’t that what he does? Certainly it is. But we define ok differently than he does.
For Jesus, ok is forgiven sin and no longer facing the judgment of God. It isn’t necessarily parties filled with laughter.
We live in a very comfortable age. Someone recently wrote an article about the history of chairs. Actual chairs, with cushions seat backs were unusual. Benches were around. But a chair was for the wealthy until about 200 years ago. Kings had thrones – if you look at them, they are really just a chair. Not even all that extravagant. It was the very fact of being a chair that was unusual. Recliners were unknown. Couches were unheard of. If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked. Not in the latest hiking shoes. Basic leather foot covers – sandals in warmer climates, leather covers in colder, but not arched insoles with comfort-tech padding and grippy-grab soles.
For the most part, life used to be uncomfortable. If you had a headache, you waited until it went away. Sore muscles were a daily fact of life.
We life in a very comfortable world these days. And so, it’s easy for us to get the false idea that Jesus came to make us ever more comfortable.
And yet, we live in a world filled with comfort, but filled with despair. People chase after the latest pleasure, they try desperately to find meaning in life. Hedonistic lifestyles where every single whim is catered to with food, drink, medication. But all of that is just to make people numb to the pain of their own existence. We become so accustomed to being comfortable that we can not even hear the Law of God for our own benefit. We are filled with boundless sorrow, but can not stand to hear the diagnosis. That would be Law. It makes us uncomfortable and so it must by definition be bad. Meanwhile we are medicating ourselves into oblivion in an attempt to get the pain to stop.
Jesus offers the wine of gladness. That’s what happens here. Not that he is offering alcohol so the people can get hammered. The party can continue it is true. The banquet, the wedding, the feasting all go one because of Jesus. But Jesus picking – for his first miracle – water into the best wine is not just a coincidence. Jesus isn’t just caught up in events, and trying to do what he can to make things a bit easier for his mom. Jesus is sending a clear message about what he is for.
As Saint Paul says, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We can not find fulfillment in the hedonistic pleasures of this world. It’s what we are told to do – to go after what you really dream about. To be the person you really are on the inside – even if that matches nothing about how God created you. But that is just piling despair on top of despair. True joy is found in the things of God. The world says it is your body, you can do with it as you please, alter, cut, add to, indulge in whatever sick fantasy your mind can create in order to find personal fulfillment.
Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s such a simple thing, even the church has trouble believing it. If you really want to serve God, you abandon family and friends and go pray in a cloister, or do mission work in darkest Peru. Living faithfully as father and mother, son or daughter, providing for family and honoring parents? That’s crazy talk. How can that be what God wants of us. Neither the world nor the church wants to recognize the reality that God calls us to be his children and to serve the world according to our calling – our vocation. Whether that means providing for family by raising cattle or teaching children, or patrolling highways. For children it means obediently doing as your parents tell you, doing your schoolwork, loving your siblings.
Does this bring happiness? In this world of sin, we still struggle. Even the holiest saints are afflicted by Satan and his lies. We still struggle with the sinful flesh. That’s why we need Jesus to continually forgive our sins. We must be constantly fed with his holy word. We must be in prayer against Satan and his lies. Not because it leads to comfortable surroundings, with fat bank accounts. But because it is the answer to the despair, the crying out of our souls for meaning and purpose. It is the only answer to the heart broken by the Law. The forgiveness – the redemption won by Christ on the cross. Jesus does not leave you without comfort. As he commended his mother to the care of John, so he commends his church to the care of pastors – who come with the healing balm of the Gospel. Who bind up the wounds of those who are injured by their sins. Who bring the wine of gladness and rejoicing from the stores of the Lord. Who offer that forgiveness to all whom come weary and heavy laden into the house of God. The peace God gives is a peace that passes all understanding.
Jesus gives the good wine – the best wine – to you. Not because he wants us to live in a drunken stupor. But so that you would be given the joy that comes from being forgiven your sins. The promise of life with him – life cleansed from sin, given relief in your suffering, joy in your sorrow. Given the life of Christ in place of your body of death.
Thanks be to God, who revealed his glory to the disciples at Cana. Who continues to come to us with his love and his mercy. Who promises you every good thing.