January 20, 2019 – 2 Epiphany C
Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The story is told of a tight laced teetotaler who had a daughter who fell in love with an Episcopalian. The woman could never really reconcile with the fact that her son-in-law drank. It didn’t seem right to her and it was a source of conflict for them over the years. At one meal when they were together, the son-in-law served a bottle of wine and he could tell his mother-in-law was very uncomfortable. Trying to lighten things up he said, “Come on, even Jesus turned water into wine.” The woman replied, “Yes, I know, and I’ve always thought less of him for it.”
One evening when was I was pretty young, my sister and parents and I were sitting in the den, having just finished supper, when the doorbell rang. That didn’t usually happen in the evenings and my Dad said, “I wonder who that might; let’s go see.” So the four of us went to the front door. Someone opened the door and no one was there. But there, sitting on the porch, was a big bag of Hershey’s kisses. My Mom said, “Oh, it was the Candy Man!” Wow. I had never heard of the Candy Man but apparently he paid surprise visits for no particular reason and left bags of Hershey’s kisses for people to enjoy. Maybe you can imagine how cool that was for me at that early age. And every so often, for the rest of my childhood, it was repeated. It always happened when the four of us were together. The doorbell would ring. We would go to the door and there would be that big bag of Hershey’s kisses. The Candy Man made infrequent but regular visits to the Wisnewski household.
Over time I began to figure it out. I checked around and found that the Candy Man didn’t visit anyone else I knew. Gradually it dawned on me that this was something my parents had devised, somehow arranging for a neighbor or someone to ring the doorbell and leave the candy. But in a way that made it even better. The beginning excitement that a mystical figure would swoop down and leave some candy sparked a real sense of hope in me. But coming to know that my parents would be that creative and go to all that trouble just for a little fun was even better. At an early age, I was being shown that life is supposed to be light and exciting and fun.
More recently, I had a friend who, every so often, would call and say he had a box he’d like to drop by the house. It was always a case of wine and he brought it for no particular reason. It was a reminder to me that here is yet another person who gets it, that life is supposed to be light and exciting and fun. It can’t always be that way, but none of the harder things can ever completely extinguish that truth: life and joy are closely connected.
Certainly it’s clear that that’s what the gospel lesson is all about today. Jesus is attending a party, a wedding feast, and they run out of wine. It’s not the end of the world but both his mother and Jesus recognize that something’s missing here. It would be a shame for people to leave the party thinking that the hardships of life have won out, that just when everyone was having fun, they run out of wine and have to go back to the drudgery of their ordinary lives. The mother of Jesus says, “Hey, that’s not right.” And Jesus himself acts in a light and exciting and fun way. It’s frivolous, isn’t it? He’s not casting out demons, or healing the lame and blind. He’s not doing anything dramatic so everyone can see how special he is. He quietly turns the water into wine. No one really knows where it comes from but they figure it out over time. Life and joy are closely connected.
There’s an old Jewish table blessing that maybe Jesus had heard: “Blessed Lord God, King of the Universe. You bring forth grain from the field to sustain us and fruit from the vine to give us joy.”
In John’s gospel, this is Jesus’ first miracle, the first of the signs that begin to add up that he is the Christ, the Savior of the world. There are more serious and maybe more important things to come. But it all begins right here with a light and frivolous gesture. It sparks a sense of joy in the people. It sparks a sense of joy in us.
No one gospel lesson says everything there is to say about Jesus. Certainly no one sermon can say it all either. But the message today is that God embraces and dispenses joy. At every juncture we are invited to hear the proclamation: the best is yet to come. Abundant life is what God intends, what God will keep dispensing until we all figure it out, until we all get it. Life is hard and dark a lot of the time. But the darkness does not win out. The light shines in the darkness. And the darkness is changed into light through the redeeming act of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The doorbell is ringing. We know who’s there. And we know the great gift that is delivered to us. Jesus is the good wine that God has now given to the world. That wine, we will later hear, requires new wineskins. This great love Jesus brings us changes us from the inside out and requires changes in the way we live. The way we treat others, the way our institutions treat others, the way we use our money and our power, all of those and much more, are required to reflect this great love that Jesus brings to us. Jesus is the good wine that ushers in the kingdom of God. First we have to receive it. And then we have to ask if we are allowing it to make us new.