Dear people for whom Jesus came: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation.” During Epiphany, Jesus is revealed to us. The Christmas baby is manifested to be none other than God in the flesh. As we heard last week, this was clear in the Baptism of our Lord when God the Father proclaimed Him publically to be His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. God has come to earth!
But what does this mean and what should we expect? John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of God in the flesh preached fire and brimstone. Repent! The axe is laid to the root of the trees! Bear good fruit or be thrown into hell! (cf. Luke 3:9) He went around in a rough garment of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey as he preached. So the Coming One who is mightier than John, what do we expect of Him? More of the same, right? Only mightier and stronger.
Yet Jesus did not go around in rough clothing or eat a meagre diet of locusts and wild honey. And the first of Jesus’ mighty signs and wonders did not take place in the wilderness. The first miracle Jesus performed was at a party. And Jesus didn’t raise someone from the dead or heal someone who was sick. His first miracle was giving more wine to partiers who had been drinking all day and had already had plenty to drink. And He didn’t just bring a few bottles of wine to the party. Six thirty gallon jars of water turned into wine would be the equivalent of 907 bottles of wine! And not just any cheap wine, but some good quality wine that made the master of the feast take notice and ask why the good wine was being brought out to the party so late. Is this what you would expect from God in the flesh?
Many people back then had trouble with it, too. They called Jesus a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34). It all just didn’t seem right to them. But then again, John the Baptist didn’t seem right to them either. Those who had a problem with Jesus also had a problem with John the Baptist. Because John did not eat bread or drink wine, these people said he had a demon (Luke 7:33). John did not join the people in their festivities. In fact, the angel Gabriel told John’s father that he was not to drink wine or strong drink at all (Luke 1:15).
But the real problem they had with John was his message of repentance. It had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t drink wine or strong drink. Those who didn’t want to turn from their sins, responded to John by accusing him of having a demon, even though all he did was bring them God’s Word of repentance – turn from your sins and live. They found excuses not to listen to him, whether it was his clothing of camel’s hair, his food of locusts and wild honey, or the fact that he wouldn’t drink alcohol and party with them.
Jesus came with the same message of repentance – turn from your sins and live. And there were many that did. Sinners of all sorts came to Jesus for Absolution. Tax collectors and prostitutes came to Jesus, and He forgave them. Jesus ate and drank with the lowlifes of the earth.
This didn’t sit too well with those who didn’t like Jesus’ message of repentance. They didn’t want to repent of their sins, and they didn’t think that tax collectors and prostitutes deserved forgiveness. They didn’t want to turn from their sins, so they responded to Jesus by accusing him of being a glutton and a drunkard. They found excuses not to listen to him, whether it was his forgiving of sinners they didn’t think deserved forgiveness or the fact that He ate and drank at parties.
God in the flesh was not what people expected. He was not the rough wilderness man John was, staying away from parties and alcohol. Nor was He socializing with the elites and the nobility to the exclusion of the poor and marginalized. Rather, Jesus ate and drank with all sinners regardless of their social status because everyone needs forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t come to bring new laws or to crush us with existing laws. He knew that we are already crushed by the Law. He knew we are unable to do what God’s Law requires of us. He knew that we sin in thought, word, and deed, by why we have done and by what we have left undone. Jesus came to do what we cannot do. He came to fulfil the Law for us. He came with forgiveness and healing for broken sinners. He came to dwell with us, even at our parties. He came to give wine to partiers celebrating God’s good gift of marriage.
It may seem like a little thing. Sure, God cares about the big things in our lives. But we see that He cares also about the little things. He cared even that the wedding party ran out of wine. He tells us that even the hairs on our heads are numbered (Luke 12:7).
This may not be the God that we expect. A provider of wine and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But this is the God that Jesus is. He remains a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He continues to call us to repentance – not because He wants to condemn us, but because He wants to forgive us. He bore the crushing weight of the Law so that ours sins are forgiven.
His forgiveness to us is as overflowing as His generosity to the wedding couple of Cana. When He gives us His true body in Holy Communion with the bread, we may just eat a little wafer of bread, but that little bread is overflowing with forgiveness. When He gives us His true blood in Holy Communion with the wine, we may just take a little sip, but that sip is overflowing with forgiveness – more than 907 bottles worth. Because Jesus does not just give a little bit of Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper. He gives all of Himself to each of us, just like He gave all of Himself to death for our sins.
This may not be the God we would expect. But since when has God abided by our expectations? Through turning water into wine and His many other mighty signs and wonders, Jesus manifested Himself to be God. His resurrection from the dead proved to be His ultimate mighty sign as He proved Himself victorious over sin, death, and the grave.
Because Jesus manifested Himself as God, we know that what He said concerning coming to us today in miraculous but hidden form is true. He can turn water into wine and He can give His blood with wine for us to drink. Feasting at His altar gives us eternal life and brings us to the ultimate party – the heavenly banquet; the feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. This is described in Isaiah as “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Is. 25:6)
You have God’s invitation to this eternal banquet, and you can rest assured He’ll be serving more than 907 bottle of wine, and it’ll better wine than you’ve ever had. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.