January 27, 2018
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Celebration of Life in Jesus
The winter challenge
Last week, we were struck by some very dangerous weather, a blizzard and freezing rains. When it’s snowing and icy outside, nobody wants to leave one’s house. After talking with several members, I had to decide that we must remain safe and worship the Lord from our homes.
Some of you might wonder whether we just violated our Sabbath as we gave up our Sunday Service? In order to encourage you, I posted in our church Facebook page the bible verse from Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) and gave a little comment: “Wherever we are and no matter what situation we have, let us give thanks to God who always holds us in his constant love. Shalom to you!”
Yes, I have no doubt that God is always with us even if we can’t be always faithful enough… But things happen. The winter cold broke a pipe in the parsonage and my garage ceiling was leaking. Well what I experienced from this accident is that bad things still happen to us although we are in God’s hands; our faith in God would reward us God’s salvation and eternal life but that doesn’t mean that we are free from all kinds of unexpected accidents while living on earth. That’s why we wonder sometimes whether God does really care for little accidents we have to struggle with in our daily lives although we trust that God will bring us to His kingdom as he promised us in the Bible.
Jesus’ concerns in his ministry
When you think about Jesus’ ministry, what kind of concept pops up in your mind? Probably, those of salvation, redemption, cross, sacrifice, resurrection, eternal life, God’s kingdom, etc. Those theological or biblical terms are not the common language we speak in our daily life. In fact, Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Do not worry about what to eat, what to drink, or what to wear… But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…” (Mt. 7:31-33).
Yes, as I mentioned above, Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins and save the world and bring us to eternal life in God’s kingdom… But did our Lord really care about little things that we have to struggle in our ordinary lives? Did Jesus have his own private life just to relax and enjoy his day? Did Christ take a “daycation” to restore and refresh his mind and body?
Yes, he did! He actually knew how to celebrate his life along with his people. And he had paid attention to, not only such a big mission like salvation or God’s kingdom, but also very trivial and small issues in human life. Today’s Gospel story illuminates his care and mercy for our ordinary things. He showed his first miracle in joyful celebration at the wedding of Cana.
Jesus at the wedding
In any Palestinian village of Jesus’ day, as in any family today, a wedding was a great occasion. It is a special moment and the best time for the new couple, and their friends and family, to share their joy.
But an unexpected disaster happened at the wedding reception of Cana: the wine was in danger of running out. According to a Jewish proverb, “Without wine, there is no joy.” Even worse, within the social customs of Jesus’ day, the party without wine was considered an insult to the guests who were invited to the family’s occasion. The Bible does not record the emotion involved, but we can easily imagine how frustrated the hosts must have felt in running out of wine at their wedding reception. It would have been seen as a bad omen.
Fortunately, Jesus, along with his mother Mary and disciples, was there at the wedding reception. Of course, our good Lord solved the problem by changing the water into wine, so the hosts could overcome the crisis and all the guests rejoiced much in celebrating and blessing the young couple’s new life. Later in John’s Gospel he says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). And just as he responded to those people in today’s Gospel, Jesus always responds to us.
This miracle, turning water into wine, is nothing less than an open declaration that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to change or transform our life: despair to hope, sadness to joy, slavery to liberty, sinners to God’s children, and death to eternal life. However, this Gospel story teaches us that Jesus is not the only resource for our life change. It is also necessary for us to respond to God’s grace if we want to experience Jesus’ transforming miracles in our life.
First, it is very important that we invite Jesus to our troubles. In this Gospel story, the hosts of the wedding were lucky that Jesus was there when they were stuck in that embarrassing situation.
There is a Sunday School story that highlights the importance of Jesus’ presence in our occasions. One day, a little boy visited his uncle who wasn’t married yet. He told him that he goes to a Sunday School. The uncle asked the body, “What did you learn in your school?” He replied, “we heard that Jesus went to a wedding and made water into wine.” “And what is the lesson in that story?” his uncle inquired. After thinking for a moment, the little boy answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there!”
We may say that the boy is so innocent to receive what he was told. But his reply is, I believe, pretty profound advice. It is good to have Jesus at our wedding that God will bless our celebration. Indeed, it is good to have Jesus everywhere in our life, because we don’t know what will happen to us from moment to moment. Whatever problems confront us, whatever crisis threaten our lives, whatever we lack in any situation, Christ can restore us if he is invited there.
Second, we must believe that before he showed his power, Jesus wants to hear first our problems out of our lips. Mary is a symbol of the ordinary believers who have “faith” in Jesus but who still doesn’t know how he handles our problems. When the wine was almost running out, Mary said to him, “They have no wine” (v. 3). And Jesus just replied to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). At first, it seems that Jesus ignored Mary’s request. She may feel ashamed that she wouldn’t want to get involved in the problem, which was actually not her business, anymore.
Yet, Mary didn’t give up her faith but instead immediately told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Following her suggestion, the servants did what Jesus ordered them to do, that is, to fill the jars with water. And as Mary expected, Jesus eventually listened to her and met the crisis with an astounding solution: the water was changed into fresh wine, so everyone in the wedding reception could enjoy it.
The good news in this story is that Jesus cares for our problems when we lift them up to him. Although our little problem seems not related to Jesus’ salvation ministry, eventually he shows his mercy to make things right for us. The lesson we count on in this story is “frustration and despair turn to hope as our faith is engaged.”
A Joyful Friend
After his Baptism, the first miracle Jesus did was to celebrate a wedding feast and cheer people. This occurrence tells us that Jesus is not a gloomy guide with heavy works but a joyful friend who knows how to enjoy life and help others to enjoy it to the fullest as well.
As we started this new year, let us remember that the Lord of life contributed to the joy of a wedding feast, blessing it with his presence and his gift of abundance. May everything that is new and good and joyful be revealed to us in this season of Epiphany as a gift of God so that our joy may be complete. Amen.