Agents of Change
I may have mentioned this once before, but one of the most glorious events of my young adult life occurred on a trip from Twin Falls, Idaho to Lima, Montana for the wedding of my best friend, Jennifer. I cruised down the highway feeling young and free, oh for those days, and was delighted to see as I crested a hill the harvest moon rising over the Craters of the Moon Preserve to my right. It was a glorious sight, almost as glorious as the image you see on the screen of the Milky Way and Venus (I think) over the same park.
I’ve been through that Park when the sun was shining and the heat was boiling off the lava tubes that draw people to the park. You see a lot, and wonder at the force that tossed the magma that made the tubes so very far. But under moonlight, and starlight, the landscape was totally different. Not just a wonder of history and geology, but a mystery that led not just the eyes but the spirit to acknowledge the vastness of the creation and the glory of its Creator.
It is no puzzle then, as to why God Almighty chose a star to overshine that place in which a very young king spent His first days in His mother’s arms and under the protective care of Joseph. He did what babies do, that infant king; He babbled at His mother and watched the world around Him learning the shapes and textures of His Father’s creation. The Living Word learned to speak the languages of His community, Hebrew, Aramaic, and a little Greek, and to all who saw Him under the bright light of day He was simply the carpenter’s son, Mary’s baby. But under the light of that singular star that lit the way to Jesus, He was revealed to be Himself a mysterious union of divine Spirit and human flesh.
For reasons having to do with the calendar and the weather, we missed Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus, so we have gone, liturgically, from the newborn Jesus to the mature Jesus about to take up His saving ministry. But if we were to backtrack just a bit, we might find Jesus as a toddler. Our nativity sets and our Christmas cards all depict the shepherds and the magi at the stable adoring Jesus at the same time. Scripture, though, does not. Luke describes the angelic announcement to the shepherds watching over their flocks by night, and their subsequent march into Bethlehem to find the holy Child in the manger. We find the Magi or the Wisemen in the Gospel of Matthew, where the story of their search for the king whose birth was heralded by that singular star, their encounter with wicked old king Herod, and their adoration of the Christ Child and their gifts is recorded. So, at no time in Scripture do we see the shepherds and the magi with Jesus and Mary and Joseph at the same time.
In fact, the time of their visits might have been separated by as much as a couple of years. It is clear, biblically, that the angels announce the Messiah’s birth almost as it happens, so it is the shepherds who visit and worship the newborn Savior. But all we are told of the Magi’s visit is that it occurred after Jesus was born, and given travel time and all that many a biblical scholar has suggested that might have been some time after Jesus was born. In fact, the text suggests as much, for Herod asks the Magi when the star arose, and when it became clear to that willy, old fox, his nickname among his people, by the way, he ordered the slaughter of all baby boys up to the age of two years.
You might wonder why this matters. Well, it is a good reminder to read our Bibles carefully, so as not to let Hallmark and other such industries form the whole of our understanding of the birth of our Redeemer. It is far too important, that birth, to leave to others the forming of our knowledge of our Lord and our faith in Him. But the other aspect of it is this, under the light of the sun Herod saw a competitor for his throne and acted to eliminate his competition without regard for the carnage he wrought on a town and its inhabitants, not to mention our horrified sensibilities. But under the light of that singular star, the Magi, the Wisemen, the Three Kings, whatever we call them, saw the creation fundamentally and forever changed.
No longer would humanity be oppressed by sin and bound by death. The birth of this holy Child King, and His death on the cross, would fully illuminate the everlasting mercy of God and preview the death of death. Though creation looks sadly much the same under the light of our sun, by the light of that singular star we see an end to the old order created by the fall and the beginning of the new. And if the new order of creation, that of our redemption, was inaugurated by the birth of Jesus, then its fulfilment begins with the Baptism of Jesus and with this first miracle recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
The very first thing to make note of is that the miracle at the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading takes place at a wedding. This is neither insignificant nor coincidental. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ first miracle is performed backstage, so to speak, at a wedding, specifically, at the celebration following the wedding.
The wedding itself takes place at a place called Cana. We’re not sure exactly where that was; there are four good candidates for sites. What is important is not precisely where the wedding occurred but its nearness to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The wedding is likely a family affair, meaning Jesus and Mary, both present at the wedding, are related to the bride or the groom. Weddings were every bit as much a big deal in that day as they are in our own. Probably bigger, actually, for there was no paring down the guest list with a wedding because, essentially, most of the town or village in which the groom lived would be invited. Nor were weddings in that day celebrated over a measly day or so. These could be week long affairs with the groom’s family, which had essentially been saving for this day since the day the groom was born, providing all food, all drink, and even shelter if necessary for out of town guests like Mary. A good wedding made a family’s reputation not just for the lifetime of the groom’s parents but for the lifetime of the groom and his sons. So, it was vitally important to fete the guests well. Good food, good wine, a good time for all made for happy community relationships going forward.
Therefore, it was no mere inconvenience when the wine ran out, and the groom or his father, had those worthies known, would not be able to blame the situation on the drinking habits of their guests. This was a disaster, which likely explains Mary’s concern for the situation and her willingness to take on some responsibility for fixing the problem about to fall on the bride and groom. “Do something,” she said to her Son. “Not my time, woman,” said the Son in return. Note, Mary did not swat her adult son across the head for his rudeness. First, “woman” was a common address for a woman if a distant one for a son to use. Second, Jesus was speaking to Mary not as His mother but as one who stood in for the whole of humanity. Not yet, He said to us all, through His mother. His point was not to be rude to His mother but to remind her that the time of redemption was not yet. It was not yet the time for Him to yield His life on the cross and bring about the new order, the order of redemption, His death would effect. Still, Mary ignored Him, and instructed the servant’s bearing the bad news to do “whatever He tells you.”
Nothing astounding appears to happen when Jesus tells the servants to fill to the brim the six empty stone jars meant to store water for purification rites. It would have taken a bit to accomplish, since each stone jar could hold between 20 and 30 gallons of water, and this seems to be the only fuss around this first miracle. The servants went back and forth until they had poured 120 to 180 gallons of water from the village well into those stone jars. Jesus did nothing Himself, other than take a scoop of that water to the steward of the wedding. And, voila, water was found to be wine, indeed, the finest of wine.
Now, here is what we are to take away from the description of this event. Like the Father, Jesus spoke or willed water into wine; there was no showy waving of wands or slaughter of animals. Just that, like the Father, His will be done. And His will involved much more than simply helping kin avoid embarrassment. Those jars were stone so that they might hold the water of purification, meant to restore a sinner to a right standing with God. Every time one sinned, both sacrifice and a washing were utilized to wipe away the sin and please God with a sign of repentance, a substitionary atonement. Those are good-sized words meaning this, that Jesus stood in for our sin, not some poor lamb or turtle dove, cleansing us of our sin and making us worthy to stand before God. No longer would the blood of our four-footed friends stand as substitutes for the blood we owed God for our unrighteousness and idolatry. Jesus’ willingness to shed His holy blood on the cross put an end to the old order of sacrifice and initiated the new order of redemption. And like very fine wine can ruin your taste for anything less, Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice brought into existence the fullness of God’s plan for ours, and creation’s, salvation.
The greatest agent of change was and is Jesus Christ. We hear that phrase, agent of change, every so often, often in a corporate setting for someone who is not afraid to come in and upset the company apple cart so a product is better or a service more effective. But no one else can or will accomplish what Jesus did as the incarnate Son of God for humanity or creation itself. Daily, we are to remember that we live under the light of that singular star that announced to all with ears willing to hear and spirits open to receiving that truth that what was is no more, and what will be is becoming.
Again, though, like all revelations concerning the nature and benefits of our Savior Jesus Christ, once we have seen His glory in Word and in Sacrament, we, too, are changed. That it began long ago at our Baptism does not change this truth one bit; we are not as we might have been without the Holy Spirit’s intervention and Christ’s sacrifice. We, too, are agents of change, in a decidedly minor key, but none the less, we disciples follow in Jesus’ footsteps; we live as our Lord lived, and we help foster righteous change in an unrighteous world. How we might go about it will differ from disciple to disciple. But think on what disciples of Jesus have already accomplished? Hunger relief and other charities, the schooling of orphans and the children of the poor, universities, and hospitals are all creations of the Church, for God through Christ has called us to restore health and wholeness, physical and spiritual, to those around us. So, as the commercial goes, be the change, but be the change from unrighteousness to righteousness, from disdain to compassion, from neglect to caring compassion, for this is the will of your Lord and Savior.