The Sign Nobody Noticed
As I mentioned earlier this is the first Sunday after the feast of Epiphany. This is the season when we celebrate light breaking through. The days have been getting longer bit by bit for the past couple weeks, but it right at this time that the days start getting longer at both ends, thus we start to notice more light. Light has always been a powerful symbol for humans. We find it all the way through the Bible. It all starts with “Let there be light.” Listen to some of the rest of the references to light …
The Lord turns my darkness into light.
Let the light of your face shine upon us.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
In your light, we see light.
Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
Even in darkness, a light dawns for the upright.
Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
God’s justice will become a light to the nations.
Arise, shine, for your light has come.
Let your light shine before others.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (Or understand it.)
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light.
Everything that is illumnated becomes a light.
God is light; in God there is no darkness at all.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
And finally, as we’ll explore in a few weeks, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
Light. The light shines through. In this season, the light breaks forth. Jesus is the light of the world, and so in the lightening season the Church often focuses on the stories of who Jesus of Nazareth was in the world. To that end, we are going to spend the seven weeks of epiphany studying the “signs” that Jesus does in the gospel of John. The “signs” are miracles, but John never uses that word because the point is not the miraculous act itself but instead what it tells us about Jesus. What it reveals to us about Jesus. Revelation is the point.
One of the studies I read this week said we usually think about “revelation” this way. I’m talking about the revelation or the disclosure of the reality of God in the world, not the book of Revelation. We usually think about it this way: “divine information transmitted from God by ecclesiastical authority and [thus] binding Christians to intellectual assent to certain dogmatically formulated propositions.”(citation below)
Stuff about God that gets told to you and you have to believe it with your brain. Now you guys, I do this for a living, and even to me that sounds really boring. When we talk about epiphany and light breaking forth and the revelation of Jesus, that is NOT what we’re talking about.
The revelation of Jesus in the gospels, especially the gospel of John, is not so that you believe a thing about Jesus. This revelation is supposed to spark a relationship with Jesus. Something is supposed to happen to you. Jesus is supposed to happen to you. When you hear these stories, you’re supposed to let your holy imagination take flight and be in the story. What would change for you if you had this experience of Jesus? This revelation is an invitation to have a relationship with Jesus. An invitation to shared life, to friendship with the Word Made Flesh. Jesus did these signs with the intention that we would be drawn into relationship with God. That’s what it means to be a disciple.
So let’s hear the first sign. You might want to close your eyes and let your holy imagination take you into the story.
This is from the gospel of John, chapter 2, verses 1 through 11, and I’m reading from the New Revised Standard Version.
On the third day [wink wink, nudge nudge, remember the resurrection] there was a wedding [which is how the celebration in the Kingdom of God is often portrayed] in Cana of Galilee [a town that has disappeared from the historical record], and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, [which would have been hugely shameful for the family that was hosting; this is a big deal] the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” [Jesus’ “hour” means the full revelation of his glory in his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.] His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” [Hilarious. Like any good mother, she’s decided what her boy can do and it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t want to.] Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, [every guest would have ceremonially washed their hands when they arrived] each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.John 2:1-11
These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
The first way that Jesus chooses to disclose who he is is by creating 4,600 glasses of the best wine for a bunch of people who are presumably already feeling no pain (as my dad used to say).
People often tell me that they wish God would send them a sign. Something real. Something miraculous to prove God’s existence or God’s care. A sign. Well, here we get a sign. So let’s see what it tells us.
First of all, it is a sign done on behalf of someone who didn’t ask for it. Running out of wine would have been very shameful for this family, but they didn’t come to ask Jesus for help. His mom did. So the person who supposedly benefits from the sign doesn’t ask for it.
Second, Jesus does it even though he seems at first not to want to do it. He does it because his mom expects him to do it. What stands out to me in this moment is not what she says to Jesus but what she says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” Suddenly this isn’t just about helping one family; it’s about what these servants might get to experience if they trust Jesus.
Third, Very few people even knew what happened. Apparently only the servants and Jesus’ mom and eventually his disciples knew what had happened.
Fourth, someone else gets the credit. Jesus does a sign and someone else gets the credit. The groom kept the good stuff for the end of the party! Jesus does a sign and someone else gets the credit. Just sit with that for a second.
And finally, the sign that Jesus does is ridiculously abundant. It’s more than is necessary. Friends, he makes 4,600 glasses of the absolute best vintage wine when everyone expected that rot-gut stuff in a box.
And the result is that the people who knew about it “believed in him.” I think the English translation lets us down here a little. Because it doesn’t mean that now the disciples had more information about Jesus so they adjusted their theology. It means they had experienced something that caused them to trust him a little more. The ones who recognized what had happened were drawn into deeper relationship with Jesus. May it be so for us this morning. Amen.
I want to give you a little extra time for reflection this morning. Because although I’m sure there’s more I could say to you about this story, I think it would be ironically counterproductive to offer you more information instead of offering you the opportunity to experience Jesus in your own way.
Two things stand out to me this morning, but of course the Spirit may be leading you in a different direction. The first thing that stands out to me is that some of you may want to reflect on what kind of sign you are asking for.
What if it’s different than what you’re expecting? Would you even recognize it if it happened? Has it already happened and you gave someone else the credit? Are we paying attention to all that God may be doing or are we only looking for what we want and expect?
The other thing that stands out to me is God’s abundance. This sign is a taste of the “grace upon grace” that we receive from the fullness of Christ, as we read in John 1, verse 16. Grace upon grace upon grace, flowing from God the Source. Remember what we said in Advent: joy is grace recognized. If you are looking for more joy this year, ask God to help you recognize the grace upon grace that God is constantly pouring into the world.
Take a little time now and experience God however that works for you. Feel free to move around if you need to.
And now I’ll say a closing prayer … “God of Overflowing Abundance, may you be revealed to us and through us this week. May we grow in our trusting relationship with you. Amen.”
(1) Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co.), 48.