Filled with Joy

+ A sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)/Lectionary +2C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on January 16, 2022 +

Text: John 2:1-11


I saw a thread online this week asking what people missed the most from before the pandemic.
There were a lot of replies, many ranging from going to the movie theater to having a normal school experience to seeing loved ones who live abroad.
But there was one reply that stuck in my mind the past few days.
This person said they missed looking forward to things.

In the before times, we had all sorts of things we could put on our calendar to get excited and anticipate that day coming, right?
Concerts. Graduations. Vacations. Weddings. Whatever it may be.
But as we all know too well, so many of these celebrations and life events have been cancelled, moved online, or postponed until…who knows when.
Since I am someone who is authorized to marry people, I have had the opportunity to be at four weddings during COVID, but almost all of those were either postponed or dramatically smaller than they were originally intended to be.
And while the love and joy were always certainly clear, the sense of celebration was simply not the same.
I was missing the dancing, the feasting, the conversation with loved ones, even interacting with my friend’s aunt I just met.

Well, today we finally get to go to a wedding again in the gospel reading.
Or, at least we get to vicariously attend as we hear how Jesus, his mother, and his disciples all celebrated that famous wedding at Cana.
Now, weddings in Galilee two thousand years ago had some similarities to weddings today—family and friends gathered to celebrate, feast, and be merry with the new couple.
But back then, they didn’t do destination weddings and they didn’t have a limited guest list, weddings were a community event.
Everyone was invited for as much as a week of feasting and celebrating.
And the host family would lavish the community with food and wine the whole time.

Now, when Ryan and I got married, we had an amazing reception packed with beloved family and friends.
But we…perhaps underestimated how much celebration there would be and let’s just say that what we thought was a well-stocked bar ran dry well before we anticipated.
I remember how anxious and disappointed I was—I wanted our guests to have a good time and felt like I failed as a host.
But before I knew it, I saw some of our friends coming back to the party carrying cases of supplies.
Apparently, they had noticed the stock at the bar was running low and had gone out to find more to help fuel the celebration well into the night.

Well, whatever anxiety I may have felt when I heard our wedding reception bar was empty surely would have paled in comparison to the shame and humiliation the hosts of this wedding in Cana would have felt when they ran out of wine.
Everyone in their small town would remember that they were the ones who didn’t buy enough supplies for the wedding celebration.
But, thankfully for the hosts, Mary noticed the stock was running low and she found Jesus to help.
And after some…motherly convincing, Jesus agreed to help.
He found six massive stone jars—containing as much as 30 gallons each—and told the servants to fill them with water.
Then Jesus told the servants to draw from those now overflowing jars and take the cup to the chief steward.
When the chief steward tasted that cup the servants brought him, he was astounded at how good the wine was because usually the best wine is served first.
He’s so surprised and doesn’t even know where it came from.

The chief steward may not know where it came from, but the servants know.
Mary knows.
The disciples know, even if they don’t fully understand.
Because John’s gospel tells us that just days after his baptism in the Jordan River and calling his first disciples, Jesus’ first act of ministry is the miracle of turning water into wine.
What a strange choice this may seem for Jesus to inaugurate his mission on earth.
Not some grand event in front of the king or the emperor.
Not some amazing wonder in the center of Jerusalem.
Not even some work among a crowd of 5,000 people.
It’s in the back room of some ordinary wedding in the backwater town of Cana that Jesus performs his first miracle.
It’s only among his disciples, his mother, and the servants that Jesus’ glory is first revealed.

Now, on the face of it, this story tells us that Jesus is probably the best wedding guest you can have, right?
That he will come and save the day and make sure you are always well stocked with 900 bottles of the best wine.
But John’s gospel invites us to dig a little deeper into what this miracle means.
And it’s worth remembering that John doesn’t even call Jesus’ miracles “miracles,” he calls them “signs.”
Because for John, the significance is not necessarily found in the miraculous events themselves, but in what they show to us about who God is as revealed to us through Christ Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we heard what is called the prologue to John’s gospel on the Second Sunday of Christmas.
How the eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelled among us in the person of Jesus—and that we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
And from Christ’s fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
Professor Karoline Lewis says that in this first sign, Jesus is trying to show us what “grace upon grace” looks like.
What it tastes like.
Like massive jars overflowing with the best wine imaginable when you were expecting the cheap boxed stuff—or even expecting nothing at all when all the vats ran dry.
Like taking what we thought was empty within us and filling it with an abundance of love and joy.
And because this is Jesus’ first sign in John’s gospel, it is meant to train us to view the rest of this gospel in light of what has been revealed to us, in light of this grace.

So, what does this story reveal to us about Christ?
What does it tell us about God?
It tells us that God delights in our joy.
That God wants to join in our celebrations.
That even our rather ordinary events like weddings can be a means of grace to experience the love of God.
And when God enters into our lives so we can experience joy, God isn’t exactly stingy—God floods our lives with joy and doesn’t know how to stop until suddenly we find 180 gallons worth flowing around us.
And God will even see our potential shame and work within our shortcomings to transform them into a place where God’s abundant grace can be fully experienced.

If this is how the Gospel of John decided to start revealing God’s nature to us, then perhaps we can use the lens of the Wedding at Cana for how we view God.
Because how we view God has a big impact on how we view the world around us, right?
Like, if we see God as a judgmental god, we probably won’t look kindly on those who think differently than we do.
If we see God as a vengeful god, we’re far more likely to seek vengeance ourselves and resort to violence.
If we see God as a limited god, it would only be natural to horde resources for ourselves rather than spreading the wealth around.
But if we see God as a generous god, who delights in our joy, who spreads joy with reckless abundance, perhaps our eyes will be able to see that joy all around us.
Perhaps we will be able to see the grace upon grace that permeates not only John’s gospel, but our whole lives.
The chief steward, the bridal couple, and all the guests of the wine don’t see where that new, amazing wine comes from even though they taste its goodness and experience its joy.
But the servants, the disciples, and Mary all look and see what Jesus does in their midst.
They see what God is doing to generously provide an abundance of joy so the party can delight, and God can join in the celebration.

I know how easy it is these days to focus on the troubles and sorrows of living through this pandemic, especially when we have to keep learning more Greek letters to follow new variants and we see the surges dash our hopes and plans for the future.
I know how anxieties can overtake us when we wonder if we have enough resources to survive, let alone thrive—whether it be as families, as a country, or as a congregation.
I know how difficult it can be to live with trauma and grief that seems to permeate our lives and tries to prevent us from experiencing joy.
And I am confident that God is just as present in those holy times to enfold us in those motherly arms and filling our lives with compassion and love.

But I also know that even when we don’t see it, even when we aren’t looking for it, even when we feel as empty as the shelves at the grocery store, there is joy around us.
The joy of laughter with a friend.
The joy of a pet’s unfailing love.
The joy of a child exploring the world.
The joy of a community that gathers to support each other in the good times and the bad.

And if we train our eyes to see the God that Christ reveals to us at Cana, a God of abundance and joy, perhaps we will be able to see what Christ is still doing in our midst.
How, even when our celebrations are delayed or canceled, we can look around at our daily lives and perceive God in the joy we do experience.
God fostering our joy.
God delighting in our joy.
God joining in our joy.
And if that’s how we understand our God, we may start to see how those moments of joy are ways we can experience our God.
How the ordinary parts of our lives are filled with the grace of God—even simple meals of bread and wine are transformed into feasts of life because God is here to bring good things beyond our hopes and expectations.
How God has come into our lives to bring us God’s own love and doesn’t know how to stop until we are filled to the brim with love without compare.
How that love will start to overflow from our lives until we will become agents of joy sent into the world to lavish God’s grace for all to experience with abundance.

The wedding at Cana shows us something crucial about understanding our God—that God’s abundance and joy is flowing throughout the world, even when we taste it and don’t realize where it came from.
That God has come right here, even in the ordinary parts of our lives, to reveal God’s love for us and shower us with grace upon grace.
May we have eyes to see God’s presence in our lives until we and the whole creation experience the fullness of God’s joy.

Works consulted:

“The Generosity of Jesus” by The Rev. Jane Mitchell Weston on Day1, January 16, 2021.

“Commentary on John 2:1-11” by The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis on Working Preacher, January 20, 2013.

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