When my parents came for Christmas they brought wine. They brought several bottles of a nice Merlot to enjoy during the long weekend they were going to be here. They brought a bottle of a really nice Merlot to enjoy on Christmas Day. They also brought some Gewürztraminer from a winery in Bloomington, IN that they know is Amy’s favorite, and that her brother likes to drink.
It was, of course, wonderful to have the family together during Christmas. The food was great, and the wine flowed. I can only agree with the psalmist who praised God when he wrote, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man.”
We enjoyed our time together as the nice Merlot and Gewürztraminer disappeared. We celebrated Christmas Day as the bottle of really nice Merlot was emptied. Before it was time for my parents to go, all the good wine was gone. And so we had to move on to the wine that I had in the house – a Shiraz that was certainly nothing special when compared with the wine that had preceded it.
As the master of the feast in the Gospel lesson today notes, that is the way people usually do things. When we get together for special occasions – occasions of joy and celebration – we bring out the good wine and drink it first. Only if or when that is gone, do we move on to drinking the lesser stuff. But because Jesus is present at the wedding and reveals his glory for the first time in a miracle, things don’t go as they normally do.
Our text begins by telling us, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding with Mary, and while they were there a social disaster occurred: the wedding celebration ran out of wine. Now many of us like wine. But in the first century Mediterranean world, wine played a far greater role than anything we have experienced. The prospect of running out wine at a wedding celebration threatened social humiliation.
Mary became aware of the problem, and she brought it to Jesus. We learn that when the wine ran out said to him, “They have no wine.” At first glance, Jesus’ response seems puzzling. He said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He seemed to have rebuffed her. But Mary was not turned away. Instead his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus’ statement about “his hour” in the Gospel of John signals to us that what is going to happen here is about more than wine. On several occasions opponents want to seize and harm Jesus but they aren’t able to do because, we are told, “his hour had not yet come.” After our Lord had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And then he added, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
The miracle that we see in the Gospel lesson can only be understood when it is seen in relation to Jesus’ death. This becomes all the more clear at the end our text. Jesus had the servants fill six large stone jars with water. He told them to draw some out and take it to the man in charge of the feast. We learn, “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”
Then John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John calls this miracle the first of Jesus’ signs. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ signs call people to faith as they reveal Jesus’ glory. The glory John speaks of in our text is Jesus’ divine status as the Son of God. In the first chapter – the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day – John told us that the Word who was in the beginning and made the world, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In the incarnation the glory of Yahweh dwelt bodily in Jesus Christ in order to save us. That glory was present in the midst of God’s people. Jesus’ miracles begin to reveal this glory. But they also direct us toward a surprising realization. We learn that Jesus’ glory is revealed on the cross, and that all of his signs point to the crucifixion.
During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show – literally ‘to sign’- by what kind of death he was going to die.” Paradoxically, Jesus’ glory is revealed in the humiliation of the cross. Jesus’ miracles – his signs – point to the revelation of his saving glory in the suffering of the cross and resurrection from the dead.
Jesus’ miracles – his signs – reveal his glory. John says at the end of our text that this first sign revealed his glory, “And his disciples believed in him.” The signs called forth faith. Later in this chapter John says, “many believed in his name, observing his signs he was doing.”
And isn’t that what we want Jesus to do today? We want him to do something that will shut up the disparaging critics of our culture. But that is not the way it works. The signs point to the cross. They call forth faith in the One who revealed his glory by dying. And so even the miraculous signs could be rejected. Jesus said to the crowed that followed him after the feeding of the five thousand, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” John tells us about the culmination of Jesus’ ministry during Holy Week, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.” And this was after Jesus had raised Lazareth from the dead!
Jesus has given us signs that are no less powerful … and no less rejectable. At the end of the Gospel, John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Through the inspired Gospel we see Jesus’ signs – signs that call forth and sustain faith in the Lord. They call forth saving faith in the One who rose from the dead – the One who will raise us from the dead. Jesus declared, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Yet just as in Jesus’ day, they are also signs that can be rejected. People refuse to engage the witness of Jesus’ resurrection because they think the virtue of this age is that “people are free to question” – which means they are free to choose what they want to be true. The Gospel of the risen Lord is rejected because people say they “don’t need religion.” We see it all the time. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared and rejected.
This is discouraging. It is not what we want to happen. But we must return to the fact that Jesus’ signs remain the same. They could be rejected in unbelief then, and they can still be rejected in that way now. But more importantly for us, they revealed Jesus’ glory and called forth faith then, and they still do so now.
This morning in the inspired words of the Gospel lesson we see the sign of Jesus turning water into wine. It is a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory. It sustains us in faith – faith that the Holy Spirit have given to us. As the sign points to Jesus’ death and resurrection it draws us back to our Lord’s love for us. And it also sends out to reveal our Lord through love for those who share the same faith. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus turns water into wine as a sign that reveals his glory and calls forth faith. Our Lord’s signs continue this morning. They continue in the reading and preaching of the Gospel lesson. And they also continue to involve wine. Yet now, Jesus takes bread and wine and works the miracle of giving us his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus’ words of promise about the Sacrament continue to call forth faith – faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord; faith in the presence of his body and blood in, with and under bread and wine for us. The Sacrament reveals Jesus’ saving glory. This is a glory that gives us eternal life now. It is a glory that we will know on the Last Day. For Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
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