Epiphany

Text: John 2:1-11
Date: Epiphany II + 1/17/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or the revealing of something that is hidden. The liturgical season of Epiphany does just that, especially with its three traditional Gospel events, the Magi following the star to find the infant Jesus, then Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River accompanied by the Holy Spirit in bodily form as a dove and the Voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son,” and finally Jesus’ first mighty sign of changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. In all of these events what will remain hidden until you, like Jesus’ disciples at the end of today’s reading, “believe in him,” is His identity as the Son of God, come in the flesh, in order to fulfill God’s Law perfectly for us and yet to go into death for us, taking all our sins with Him. All of that is in these three events. The gifts of the Magi make these things obvious to the eyes of faith—gold for a heavenly king, frankincense for the worship of God, and myrrh for his coming death. So at His baptism, the Holy Spirit is given because, in His state of humiliation, Jesus will not use any power beyond what you and I have been given to live perfectly according to God’s Law, and yet the Voice from heaven identifies Him as the unique Son of God. And now here at a wedding these themes of revealing who Jesus is and what He came to do are the important points. The rest of the Sundays after the Epiphany, then, are a thumbnail sketch of His life on the road to His holy death as the Savior of the world.

The first thing you notice in John’s relating this event are the beginning words, “On the third day.” Though these words seem to echo the familiar words of the creed referring to our Lord’s resurrection, that is not the point here. The “third day” here is the third day following what has gone just before in John’s telling. And if you count the “days” as John begins his Gospel, this is actually the seventh day. The “epiphany” or that which John means to reveal in this way is that, with the coming of Jesus, He is bringing about the new creation. As the old creation took six days and on the seventh day God rested, so the Messiah brings the new creation through the forgiveness of sins and resurrection to new life culminating in what the Book of Revelation calls the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end.

John then relates some of the basic details of this event. “The mother of Jesus” was invited to this wedding. (What do you think John is saying or not saying by never calling Jesus’ mother by her name in his Gospel?) Jesus was invited, too, along with his disciples.

Now there are actually two invitations here. Jesus accepted the first one, namely, to attend the wedding. But the second invitation is made by Jesus’ mother. When the wine ran out she “invited” Him to do something about it. This invitation Jesus refused with the strange sounding words, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” We are to know that Jesus was not being rude to His mother here. But, with our theme of Epiphany, He was revealing and reminding even His mother of His true identity as her Savior and Lord. And here is the first reference to Jesus’ “hour” in John’s Gospel. His “hour” is a hidden way to refer to His goal and purpose, namely, His glorifying the Father in His holy and precious, atoning death on the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane John will relate how Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come” (John 17:1). In this connection, notice also how John speaks of this miracle as “manifesting his glory.” Again, “his glory” is not the loud, hand-clapping, praise-song shouting, lights flashing happiness that is so rampant in churches these days. His glory is primarily His sacred death on the cross. Don’t we sing, “In the cross of Christ I glory”? And then there’s that wonderful Good Friday hymn,
The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
We celebrate with one accord;
It is our comfort in distress,
Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness. (LSB 634:1)
That a death on a bloody cross should speak of glory is something that is hidden, that needs to be revealed to the eye of faith, that needs “epiphany.”

Now, someone may ask, “Why all this ‘epiphany’ stuff? Why not just tell the truth straight out instead of playing this ‘hide and seek’ game?” We are like the master of the feast that didn’t know where the wine came from and proceeded to reprimand the bridegroom for hiding the private reserve until the end of the feast. The answer is as John related Jesus’ question to Nicodemus in John 3, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (Jn. 3:10). It is because of man’s spiritual condition, understanding darkened because of sin, spiritually blind, having no impulse for God. This spiritual darkness, like sin itself, is a slavery and tyranny from which no one can free themselves. It takes the enlightenment of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit alone can open a person’s mind with the gift of faith. “This epiphany stuff” isn’t God just playing games with us. It is the necessary breaking in to our spiritual blindness and darkness to bring about spiritual awakening, rebirth and resurrection, a brand new life, a brand new way of thinking, a brand new way of living.

I invite you to receive this epiphany, this manifestation of the Word and glory of God as a light shining in a dark place, as the means by which the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens saving faith in your heart, as the true joy and worship of faith, namely, the hearing, the receiving of God’s Word, through your ears, in your mouths in the Holy Communion, to the enlightening of the eyes of your heart, to life everlasting in the resurrection.