THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
All Men Desire Communion With Divinity
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Every person yearns for the transcendent, for that which is beyond himself. The quest to enter into transcendence is innately connected to the souls never ending pursuit of happiness: to attain the happy life, a good life. Once we realize how bereft of these things we are in and of ourselves, we turn our search outward: seeking happiness and goodness in relationships, in occupations, in material possessions (like big cars and overpriced steak), in created things (seeking spiritual experiences on a mountain hike or scuba diving in the ocean). Man attempts to attain the transcendent through so many created and material means, he is trying to touch divinity, to find and be near something that embodies ‘god-ness’.
Throughout all of human history, man’s god-quest has taken on various forms of prayer, sought to touch the divine through mediums diviners and oracles, performed rituals, offered all sorts of sacrifices, employed any and all manner of spiritual and cultic exercises. We humans are hard-wired with a desire to commune with divinity to grasp the transcendent. And this is so because the Christian God has written it into the fabric of the human heart: we are created by Him, and, for Him. So, in reality, this universal human endeavor to find the divine is actually the souls desire to return to its Creator. St. Augustine beautifully articulates this truth writing “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
But not all who seek divinity find the True God. So was the state of the Athenian philosophers with their pantheon of fakes who had not found the Holy God of Scripture. Desiring they should find Truth, St. Paul described to them the God who,
“made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).
And today, the Athenians still search. Humanity is still trying to attain that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. Man working to draw near to divinity: this is the story of humanity. God drawing near to man: this is the story of Christianity. The One, True God, Creator of heaven and earth, the God of Holy Scripture: this God has drawn near to us and has made himself known. If Advent is about God drawing near to men by the incarnation of the Eternal Son, then Epiphany is the necessary continuation of the incarnation, the "manifestation" of God in the flesh, the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ the God-Man made manifest for the salvation of the world.
Epiphany is Shrouded in Mystery and Miracle
The Epiphany season is bedazzled by mystery and centers on three main appearing’s of Christ: First, in the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in which the salvific plan of God is revealed to the Gentiles. Second, in the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan when he manifested himself as the Messiah, the Only-Begotten Son of God, consecrated by the Holy Spirit as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And third, this evenings Gospel reading invites us to a Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus miraculously transforms water into wine and by the miraculous, manifests his glory.
Epiphany is a season not only filled with beauty, but shrouded in mystery and miracle. On the Feast Day, you might recall, we read in Matthew’s Gospel of a moving star which leads the gentile Magi to the infant Jesus by coming to a stop directly over his home. We learn of woman, a virgin, who miraculously gives birth to a son, and, of the Magi who escape the cruelty of Herod by receiving a warning from God himself in a dream. Not to mention, at a dove which somehow descends directly over Jesus and the audible affirmation from his Father in heaven. Miracles and mystery.
The Miracle at Cana reveals Jesus to be the Christ
Jesus’ miracle at Cana, where he transforms water into wine, is unlike any previous miracles we encounter in Matthew’s infancy narratives. Because the miracle at Cana is performed solely by the hand of Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel we read of miracles performed FOR Christ… (The star, the dreams, etc.) In contrast, St. John records a miracle performed BY Christ. And in his first recorded miracle a divine convergence occurs, the convergence of the mystery and the ministry of Christ. And by this divine convergence the glory of Christ is revealed. The miracle at Cana reveals Jesus to be the Christ sent by the Father to re-create and transform the world. This is the ministry of Christ.
The Mystery Of Christ
I want to first talk about the mystery of Christ. Because without the mystery there is no ministry. Out of love God created the visible world, the heavens and the earth, and he created man, male and female, to enter into and enjoy sacramental union with him and each other. But temptation gave way to sin and they disobeyed God, forever disrupting the good order of all things. Crushed by the weight of original sin, the man and woman fell far from grace, forever destined for death, alienated from God and disinherited from the eternal riches of His Kingdom. But God was determined to make all things new again. Through Abraham God promised to bless the nations of the world. He promised to raise up a new prophet like Moses from among his people who would speak the very words of God (Dt 18:18). He would raise up a shepherd who would feed his people with knowledge and understanding (Jer 3:15) A virgin would give birth to one named Immanuel signifying that God would come into the midst of his people.
Alluded to in the Old Testament
The Prophet Zechariah saw a day when God would come to his own,
Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof (Zech 8:2-4).
God in the midst of his people: young and old, men and women dwelling with their God, the streets resonating with the wonderful sound of happy, healthy children. But don’t miss this: the return of God to his people would also bring in the praise of the nations, Zechariah continues,
Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you (vv. 22-23). For God’s people, His returning was synonymous with salvation, their goodness and happiness. They knew that His appearing would usher in the day of restoration and salvation. The Creator would come and recreate all that was broken. He would begin his divine work of making all things new.
The Mystery Revealed In Miracle
And here is the mystery: God would return to save his people but not only Israel, but the gentiles as well. This is the Great Mystery of Christ: the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. A mystery which from the beginning had been hid in God, the divine wisdom sought of the prophets and longed for by angels. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. A mystery revealed to the Apostle Paul that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. This great mystery is revealed in the miracle of transforming water into wine, where Jesus wields the recreative power of God to transform a created thing and thus manifests himself to the world as the God who draws near to save.
The Collects Point to our Present Need of Christ’s Ministry
At Cana the veil is pulled back permitting us to see the recreative work of Christ. By divine power he transforms water into wine. Now this isn’t a creative act in the strict sense as when he created the world ex nihilo (from nothing). Jesus doesn’t create water from nothing and then from water create wine. Rather, He recreates that which already exists, transfiguring and transforming that which is created into something brand new: Behold I am making all things new.
This is exactly what Christ came to do; to do a new thing; to usher in a new covenant with his creation; to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; to put broken hearts back together again; to turn sorrow to joy and suffering to laughter; to recreate and transform humanity into his very own likeness, thereby graciously making us sons and daughters of God by faith. This great recreative ministry Christ first revealed in helping a wedding party desperately in need of more wine.
Friends, the True Light has shined into the darkness, God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But the darkness lingers, and in the darkness lurk the horrors of this life. Wedding joys can so quickly turn to desperation, need, anxiousness, and deep, deep sorrow. How we long to drink the good, restorative, wine of Christ; to know that the manifested Christ is near. He is not the far away God because he has descended right into the depths of the earth, right into the midst of our trials and suffering. He is no longer merely a God up there, but surrounds us from above, from below, and from within: he is all and in all. And he is in our midst, even as I speak, wielding his recreative power, not only for the transformation of your soul, but the transformation of life’s circumstances. He is making all things new because Jesus is the true giver of joys, the awakener of life, the reliever of cares. He is near to you. He is near to me.
He Saves the Best Wine Till the Last
But let us remember, Jesus saves the best wine until the end. He gives according to His own time, not according to our ideas. We may experience days, weeks, years, perhaps the better part of a lifetime before our lips taste the better wine. Hear the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom,
Christ made not wine simply, but the best wine.—God keeps the best drink for His children for the most part for the last, many a time even for heaven. We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged, if the help delays. Take heart. We are promised to drink, we will taste the incomprehensible goodness, mercy, and love of Christ at the celebration of the Lamb.
He keeps His best till last, and this is Christ’s prerogative, his rule to enforce when he desires, which all who would be happy must submit to. He will certainly have us bear chastening, imperfection, doubt, and all manner of distress, in this life, that we may, by His mercy, come at last to be satisfied with the plenteousness of His house, and to drink of His pleasures, as out of the river (Ps 34:8). Thus, the Lord's waiting with His good wine until the end of the feast must encourage us to embrace patient expectation, teaching us to bear with hope, faith, and love, that which cannot be helped. But be assured beloved, the manifested Christ is near and is at work. The glory of the Lord has been revealed from heaven and the radiance of his goodness shines upon us in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ the chief Bishop and Shepherd our souls. Amen.