Thought for Evensong – The Epiphany, 3rd January 2021

Psalm 96, Isaiah 49: 13 -23 and John 2: 1 – 11

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples. Psalm 96: 3

Lift up your eyes all around and see, they all gather, they come to you. As I live, says the Lord, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on. Isaiah 49: 18 

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2: 11 

O God, who by the guiding of a star didst manifest thy only begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen Collect for the Epiphany

The subtitle in the Prayer Book for this Sunday is ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’, and the collect takes us immediately to the manner in which God announced the birth of a new king to the astronomers of the East. Historians believe the three kings, or wise men, while clearly Gentiles, had knowledge of the prophecies and expectations of the exiles (removed from their home country to Babylon – as we read last year). The unusual star that captured their attention, was heaven’s way of declaring the birth of the Messiah to the wider world; it served the purpose in bringing these men with their symbolic gifts to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem.

Our New Testament reading for today takes us forward thirty years to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The verse quoted above from John 2: 11 tells us directly why John (who we were thinking about only last week) should have included the miracle of turning water into wine so prominently in his gospel. We know John, among many other significant themes, was interested in signs that pointed to something important. He arranges his gospel like a treasure hunt where clues are given, and the reader has to make the right connections to reach the intended conclusion, or revelation of who Jesus really is. After the magnificent opening verses of chapter one, John quickly introduces John the Baptist announcing that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and describes the transition taking place as Andrew and Peter switch their allegiance to Jesus. There is only a hint of the Baptism of Jesus, with John the Baptist’s words describing the Spirit descending on Jesus, and then the humorous conversation between Jesus and Nathanael, which concludes with Jesus talking about angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. The gospel writer has set the scene, clearly establishing the special link between heaven and earth as Jesus comes to the small village of Cana.

The description of this wedding feast appears only in John’s gospel and, as we have just noted, is included as a sign or clue. The miraculous act of turning water into wine, to relieve the embarrassment of the wedding host, is included by John to continue the idea of heaven coming to earth and the power at Jesus’ disposal to alter the normal rules of nature. But it also speaks of a deeper transformation, not just water into wine, but the power Jesus had to change people’s lives. It also points ahead to the heavenly banquet when all these changed people will one day share in the glory of heaven. John also draws our attention to the water jars used as part of the Jewish purification rites of hand washing, showing us that Jesus was launching a new era; the old dispensation with all its rules and regulations was being swept aside, with something far richer and more abundant being created. This is the new creation, available not only to God’s original chosen people, but to the whole world – bringing the possibility of purification and a richer dimension to the souls of all who turn to Jesus in repentance. At a more basic level, this miracle also shows Jesus’ compassion for people caught up in the social embarrassment of a party perhaps coming to an ignominious end, then able to enjoy wine of infinitely superior quality. 

John mentions Mary only twice in his gospel, here at the wedding reception where she says, ‘Do whatever he tells you’, and then at the foot of the cross three years later. This is an important reminder at the beginning of a New Year, to rededicate ourselves in obedience to God’s service. This all the more critical in the light of Isaiah 49: 18, which hints at the fact that those who dedicate themselves to God are part of that adding to God’s glory that goes on through the ages. In a small and imperfect way, as we thought about during Advent, we should reflect God’s glory in the world. As people whose lives have been transformed by the One who turned water into wine, may that be our aspiration for 2021.

Kevin Boak

Lay Reader


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