Epiphany 2C: Water Plus a Miracle

Wedding at Cana
Duccio di Buoninsegna

OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 62: 1-5

Read the Old Testament passage

There are actually at least two ways to read this passage. Some hold that the prophet is speaking in the voice of God and reaffirming God’s promise to always act on behalf of the city. Others claim that the prophet himself is vowing to act as God’s intercessor, as God’s voice. Taken this way, the prophet, as he says, cannot stay silent. He is compelled to speak what he believes in the deepest part of his being. Either way, think about the context in which this passage was probably first said. God had made extravagant promises to God’s exiled people. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God promised to build up the barren and war-torn city of Jerusalem. God promised to bring the exiled people home, and promised them the richest of feasts. And so they come home around the year 539, when Persia’s King Cyrus proclaims an end to the exile and allows them to leave.

But the reality to which the people returned was far from glorious. The land seemed to them like a desert. It was true that the land was not empty: people had remained in Judah during the years of exile, and others had moved into the area, making a life for themselves in Jerusalem and in the surrounding countryside. But none were able to undo the damage done by Nebuchadnezzar and his army some sixty and fifty years before. And when the exiles returned, it was all they could do to secure homesteads for themselves and try to grow crops to feed their families. The land had not remained untouched ready for them to return. It wasn’t like they just threw off the sheets covering their furniture and moved back in. Others had claimed their place. There was no place to go.

Times were difficult, and people were hungry. When prophets finally convinced them to rebuild the temple, it was clear that its glory could not match the glory of former days. The land still felt like a wasteland and so it was easy for them to assume that God had, in fact, deserted them.

The prophet, though, knows this is not true. The prophet believes that God has promised newness, transformation, and abundance in God’s time. But that reality is new; it is not a “redo” of the former things. It is a promise of new life. The prophet knows that God has promised new names for Israel, both for the land and for the people. This name—signifying a new destiny, a new hope—will be given by the Lord. A new name signifies a new and restored relationship with God. The name, “My Delight” says how God looks upon Israel and what God is promising to do. Emmanuel Swedenborg says that “Love consists in desiring to give what is our own to another and feeling [his or her] delight in our own.” So the prophet is calling the people to feel God’s delight, to live God’s delight, to be God’s delight. We proclaim that we rejoice in God. But this…this is God’s rejoice in us.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does the premise of a “new name” mean for you?
  3. What does that mean for you to be “God’s Delight”, for God to delight in God’s people? Why is that difficult for us to think that way?
  4. What, then, would it mean for God to be “Our Delight”?



NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Read the Epistle passage

In this passage, Paul seems to deal with spiritual gifts by pointing to the Corinthians involvement in other religions prior to their becoming Christians. He points to what it means to live by the Spirit of God; it means more than just being “religious”. It means living to the true potential of what God has instilled in each of us.

The lectionary breaks this chapter into two sections (and two weeks) but the main focus throughout the chapter is on spiritual gifts. This week’s reading essentially proclaims that all are given unique spiritual gifts and asks the question of us all, “So what will you do with them?” “What will you do so that they serve to the glory of God?” Remember that in this letter to the Corinthian Church, one of Paul’s main focuses was their seeming lack of community, their perceived inability to care for every member. This passage strikes at the heart of that notion. We are all given unique gifts by God. Are we using everyone’s gifts? Are we engaging everyone in ministry? Are all the gifts just as important as the next? Do we even recognize all the gifts that God has given us as a community? God instills gifts into each of us and instills gifts to each community. But different as they are, they are all of the Holy Spirit.

And what does this say about our own gifts and the way we engage them in the work to which God calls us? This is God’s Spirit alive in us. And yet sometimes it is difficult for us to recognize gifts in ourselves.

In Stepping Stones of the Steward, Ronald E. Vallet tells the story of a poor Jewish man, Eizik, son of Yekel, [who] lived in the city of Krakow. One night he dreamed that, in the far city of Prague, buried at the foot of the bridge that went across the Vltava River, was a great treasure. When he awoke the next morning, he remembered his dream but did not think too much about it because it is not that unusual to have such dreams. However, that night he had the same dream again. This continued night after night, the same dream, until ten days and nights had gone by. Finally, Eizik concluded that he had no choice but to make a journey to the far city of Prague to see if a great treasure really was buried where he had seen it in his dream.

He set out on the journey to Prague, a journey that took many days and was very difficult. As he approached the city of Prague, he saw the Vltava River, just as he had seen it in his dream. Crossing the river was a bridge, just as in his dream. He hurried to the foot of the bridge, where in his dream the treasure had been buried.

As he bent over and started to dig, he felt a hand grasp his shoulder and heard a voice say to him, “What do you think you’re doing here?” It was the hand and the voice of a soldier. Poor Eizik was so startled that he could think of nothing to do except to stammer out the truth. He told the soldier of his dream and of his long journey to Prague to seek the buried treasure. On hearing the story, the soldier laughed, gave Eizik a kick, and said, “You stupid Jew, don’t you know that we all have dreams like that? But it makes no sense to pay attention to them. I myself had such a dream. I dreamed that in the far city of Krakow, in the house of a poor Jew named Eizik, son of Yekel, a great treasure was buried beneath the stove. Now, wouldn’t I be stupid if I left my post and make a long journey to Krakow and went searching through the city looking for the house of a poor Jew named Eizik? Why, there are probably many Jews with that name.” With that, he gave Eizik another kick and said, “Not go on home!”

Eizik made the long journey back to Krakow, went to his home, moved aside the stove, and dug. There he found a great treasure of gold!

The treasure of gold did not lie in the far city. Instead, Eizik discovered that the treasure had been very near to him for many years. But the knowledge of the treasure involved a long and difficult journey. (Ronald E. Vallet, Stepping Stones of the Steward (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1989), 9-10.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How readily do we accept different gifts in the community?
  3. Is there such a thing as someone having the “wrong” gifts for a community?
  4. What does this say to you about your own spiritual gifts?
  5. What happens if we do NOT engage someone’s gifts?
  6. What happens if we do not engage our own gifts?



GOSPEL: John 2: 1-11

Read the Gospel passage

According to the Mishnah (which is essentially a redaction of the oral tradition of Judaism and the traditional understandings of Scripture), the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There would be speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was a religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (so, OK, that would be quite a lot of wine!).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. Perhaps the couple were relatives or something. But she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution. Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?) But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary. She expects him to fix it. Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things. Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this? I mean, really, wine? Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor? Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain? Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Now THAT would have been a miracle. But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast. Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more. Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life. And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself. It begins as ordinary grapes. Well, not really. If you go even farther back, you start with water. Everything starts with water. And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed. And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary. And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait. They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait. We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist. Think about it. We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle, those ordinary things become holy. They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine. Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift. Water and a miracle…

So this story of wine makes a little more sense. Wine is water—plus a miracle. But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water. No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself. Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation. No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine. Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.

And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different. God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us. We, too, are water plus a miracle. 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.” It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle.

So maybe this story of Jesus’ first miracle is not as odd as we thought. Our lectionary places it immediately following the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism and the remembrance of our own. It is the point where God’s Spirit, where the holy and sacred itself, was poured into each of us. So, yes, we are a miracles, created matter, Spirit-breathed. We are the good wine that God has saved for now. We are water plus a miracle.


  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. In what ways does this speak of God’s abundance to you?
  3. How does this passage speak to you about our own faith journeys?
  4. How open to God’s abundance are we?
  5. What does it mean to see ourself as a miracle of God?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. (e.e. cummings)


Joy has no name. Its very being is lost in the great tide of selfless delight—Creation’s response to the infinite loving of God. (Evelyn Underhill)

When I die, God isn’t going to ask me “Did I create the Earth in six days or five days?” but “What did you do with what I gave you?” (Richard Cizik)




Where there was no wine, there was you

and you said drink, and there it was, startling and sweet.

And where there was no bread, there was you

and you said feed one another, and there it was, filling and strong.

And where there was no love, there was you

and you said touch, and there we were, our hands looking like yours.


Here’s to everyone: To fullness of life on earth and bounteous blessings for all humanity; To justice, compassion, and the warmth of the sun for all God’s creatures; To the golden health of loved ones everywhere, and the radiant glory of those who have gone before. God bless us now and evermore. So be it. Amen. (Jan L. Richardson, “And You Said”, in In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season, (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2000), 41, 157).


Epiphany: When the Wise Ones Came

Wisemen and MangerOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Read the Old Testament Passage

Having just previously declared that God is coming as Redeemer, the writer of this part of Isaiah calls Israel to “Arise, Shine”. Essentially, it is a proclamation that God, the eternal Light, has come. God’s Presence is already here and the transformation of the world has begun.

Now keep in mind that this was probably written at the end of the Babylonian exile. The once-thriving Jerusalem now sits empty, ravaged and desolate. The people lived in darkness and exile. The temple is gone, destroyed in the attack. And the dynasty of David, the veritable hope for the future, seemed to be at its floundering end. It would have been easy to miss seeing any good that might come of the situation, easy to miss any hint of things getting better. So this is the crescendo of the preparation for God’s arrival. Come on people, the prophet screams, Wake up! Don’t you see it? Things are happening! The days of waiting are over. Your children are being gathered even as we speak to return home. It is time now, time for Israel to become who God intended—a light to the nations.

Now, of course, it’s easy for us to sort of tack this passage on to our story of the Wise Men from the Gospel of Luke, but this really did have to do with the exile. The Presence of God was palpable, moving into the desolation and beginning to re-create Jerusalem. It was time now to shape their life together as a people and as a community.

But for us, there is also that undercurrent of eschatological reflection. Our hereafter, our “heaven” as we know it, is not something out there or up there or just up ahead. It is here. We just have to look around and see it. There are streams of souls in procession. We just have to find our place. And yet, even Israel didn’t understand the message any more than we do. God is not promising to make our lives easier, or to fill us with wealth and power, or to put us on top. God is promising to remake us, transform us into something completely different. God is promising not a return to normalcy but a new normal. In fact, if you read it, it’s a new normal for everyone—for all those camel drivers regardless of where they come from—Midian, Ephah, Sheba. In today’s terms, it’s all the camel drivers from somewhere in the Sudan, possibly modern-day Iraq, and probably Ethiopia, descending into the Holy Places not to go to war or to take people into exile but to come together, bringing their resources, and praising God as one.

This week we read three Scriptures that make up our Epiphany text. Perhaps we miss Epiphany. It sort of gets overshadowed by all the chaotic over-seasoning that came in the weeks before and the mad sprint toward Lent that is only weeks away. So we put on the green “ordinary” stoles and try to get our heads back above the ensuing waves. And yet, this is the place where it all comes together—the past promises that were made even as far back as the exile, that birth of the holy child that we just celebrated, and the rest—all of us that came after. The past now makes sense and the future becomes real. God’s Presence is always and forever in-breaking into this world. So, “Arise, Shine! For your light has come!” God is transforming all of us even as we speak.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. Why is it so hard for all of us to gain a sense of God’s Presence in the darkness?
  3. What signs of the sacred and transformation do you see now?
  4. What stands in the way of your seeing that transformation?
  5. Do we lose something of the story if we read this solely as a prophetic recount of Christ rather than in the context in which it was written?



NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Read the Epistle passage

Paul and his disciples never used the word “Epiphany”. In fact, the day never really was mentioned until around the 4th century. And yet, whoever wrote this (probably not Paul), came really close to the whole notion that we celebrate: Something new has happened in Jesus. This was no ordinary baby. This was no ordinary mother. These were not ordinary shepherds and not your average run-of-the-mill Wise Men. They were all part of a new order, a new normal.

The writer acknowledges that this mystery of God’s Presence, the notion of the holy and the sacred actually being a part of us, was not made known to everyone. But now is the time. The Gentiles have been brought into the story, made characters in the ongoing story of God’s Incarnation. The point of the writing is to further explain what the readers of the letter have already gotten. They have already been gifted with this manifestation of Christ. They just had to open their eyes to know it. But this is not the “accepted” news and so the text implies that Paul’s relating of this mystery is the reason for his imprisonment (and, perhaps, you could surmise, the reason that one of Paul’s disciples may be writing this letter.)

But the writer does not seem to be discouraged. The Spirit has now made known what in former times was concealed, namely that the Gentiles are now fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow participants in the promises. This idea of grace extended to all, even those seemingly unexpected recipients, is not really a new thing to Paul or to this writer. The assertion is that the mystery has been hidden with God, who is the creator of all things, suggesting that this mystery has always been God’s plan. This mystery in Christ — Lord over all peoples, both Jew and Gentiles — was the eternal plan of God, but only in the last days has God made it evident and begun its fulfillment.

The greatest celebration of the Incarnation is this celebration of the diversity and wisdom of the church brought together in unity, just as those Wise Men from the East (and Gentiles to boot), experienced the Presence of God. The greatest celebration of the Church is the coming together of all of this wisdom so that all in their own understanding might experience the Presence of God. The mystery is that this Holy Child, this Sacred Son of God, this Christ, this Messiah, is really intended to be Savior to us All.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How would this message be received by our society today?
  3. What does this new order mean for you?
  4. If diversity is the “new order” and the “mystery for the church, what does that mean in our modern culture?
  5. Do we really understand the concept of Jesus as “Savior to us All”?



GOSPEL: Matthew 2: 1-12

Read the Gospel passage

Our Gospel text this week begins by setting us “in the time of King Herod”. And in it, we find that the last question of Advent comes not at Christmas but afterward and is asked not by an individual but by a group. They believe that the star (or, for some, an unusual conjunction of heavenly bodies that produces an especially bright light) marks the birth of a special child destined to be a king. They ask, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

And so Herod hears that a king had been born in Bethlehem. Well, the formula is simple—a king is born, but a king is already here; and in Herod’s mind and the minds of all those who follow him, there is room for only one king. The passage says that King Herod was frightened and all Jerusalem with him. They probably were pretty fearful. After all, there was a distinct possibility that their world was about to change. It seemed that the birth of this humble child might have the ability to shake the very foundations of the earth and announce the fall of the mighty. Things would never be the same again.

So Herod relies on these wisest ones in his court. The writer of Matthew’s Gospel says that they’re from the East. Some traditions hold that these wise men were Magi, a Priestly caste of Persian origin that followed Zoroastrianism and practiced the interpretation of dreams and portents and astrology. Other traditions depict them with different ethnicities as the birth of this Messiah begins to move into the whole world. But somewhere along the way, they had heard of the birth of this king and came to the obvious place where he might be—in the royal household. So, sensing a rival, Herod sends these “wise ones” to find the new king so that he could “pay homage” to him. We of course know that this was deceitful. His intent was not to pay homage at all, but to destroy Jesus and stop what was about to happen to his empire. It was the only way that he could preserve what he had.

According to the passage, the wise men know that Christ was born; they needed God’s guidance, though, to find where Christ was. When they get to the place where the star has stopped, the passage tells us that they were “overwhelmed with joy”. They knelt down and paid the new king homage and offered him gifts fit for a king. Even though later interpreters have often tried to place specific meanings on these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it is possible that the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew simply thought that these gifts, exotic and expensive as they were, were gifts that would be worthy of a great and mighty king. They were gifts of joy, gifts of gratitude, gifts of celebration.

And then the passage tells us that, heeding a warning in a dream, these wise and learned (and probably powerful) members of the court of Herod, left Bethlehem and returned to their own country, a long and difficult journey through the Middle Eastern desert. Rather than returning to their comfortable lives and their secure and powerful places in the court of Herod, they left and went a different way. They knew they had to go back to life. But it didn’t have to be the same.

So they slip away. Herod is furious. He has been duped. So he issues an order that all the children two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem should be killed. The truth is that Jesus comes into the world as it actually is, not as we wish it to be. Evil and greed are real and the ways of the world can and do crush life.

It is not really any different for us. After all, what has changed? Has Christmas produced for us some sort of “new normal”? There are too many places in the world where wars still rage. There are children that went to bed hungry last night and people in our own city that slept outside wrapped in anything that they could find hoping to stay warm. There are families in Connecticut still grieving over the loss of their children to a mad man. And, in the midst of it all, Congress is still arguing over something called a fiscal cliff. What has changed? Well, not much. Truth be told, everything seems to have pretty much returned to normal.

But, then, think about that first Christmas. This passage moves the story beyond the quiet safety of the manger. We realize that the manger is actually placed in the midst of real life, with sometimes dark and foreboding forces and those who sometimes get it wrong.   The primary characters are, of course, God and these visitors, these foreign Gentiles who did not even worship in the ways of the Jewish faith. They were powerful, intelligent, wealthy, and were accustomed to using their intellect and their logic to understand things. You know, they were a lot like us. But they found that the presence of the Divine in one’s life is not understood in the way that we understand a math equation. It is understood by becoming it.

Maybe that’s the point about Christmas that we’ve missed. Maybe it’s not just about the nativity scene. Maybe it’s more about what comes after. We often profess that Jesus came to change the world. But that really didn’t happen. Does that mean that this whole Holy Birth was a failure, just some sort of pretty, romantic story in the midst of our sometimes chaotic life? Maybe Jesus didn’t intend to change the world at all; maybe Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, came into this world to change us. Maybe, then, there IS a new normal. It has to do with what we do after. It has to do with how we choose to go back to our lives. Do we just pick up where we left off? Or do we, like those wise men choose to go home by another way?

Many of us bemoan what seems to be a take-over of our Christmas by the culture and the society. We hear time and time again a calling to “put Christ back in Christmas”. Well, I don’t think that’s the problem. God in Christ has never left. We are not called to put Christ back in Christmas; we are called to put ourselves there. The story tells us that. The young Mary didn’t just come on the scene for a starlit evening. She was there, there at the cross. Her whole life became immersed in this child that she brought into the world. The shepherds stopped what they were doing, leaving their sheep on a hillside outside of Bethlehem with no protection from bandits or wild animals and thereby risking everything they knew, everything that would preserve their life the way it was. And those Wisemen? They never went back. They chose to go home by another way.

And what about us? We are called to place ourselves in the story. We all have to go back. We all have to return to our lives. But that manger so long ago is not that far removed from us. In fact, it’s really sort of in the middle of our lives. God did not just visit our little earth so long ago and then return to wherever God lives. God came as Emmanuel, God with Us, and that has never changed. The birth of Jesus means that God was born in a specific person in a specific place. The Christmas story affirms to us that God is here, that the Messiah for whom we had waited has come, that we are in God’s hands. But the Epiphany story moves it beyond the manger. And all of a sudden we are part of the story. We are part of the Incarnation of God, the manifestation of God’s Presence here on our little earth. The God in whose hands we rest danced into our very lives and is now all over our hands. It is our move. God was not just born into the child Jesus; God is born into us, into humanity. And the world really hasn’t changed. But we have. And we are called to change the world.


  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. What “other way” are we called to travel?
  3. What do you think of the notion that Jesus came to change not the world itself but us?
  4. What new light (pun intended) does Epiphany shed on the meaning of Christmas for you?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


The desire to find God and to see God and to love God is the one thing that matters. (Thomas Merton)

Get this first epiphany right–God perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in the actual, and all the rest of the year will not surprise or disappoint you…If God can be manifest in a baby in a poor stable for the unwanted, then we better be ready for God just about anywhere and in anybody. The letting-go of any attempt to compartmentalize God will always feel dangerous and maybe even like dying…And it is both the ground and the goal of all mystical experience. Now God is in all things. We can no longer separate, exclude or avoid anybody or anything, especially under the guise of religion. We all, like the Magi, must now kneel and kiss the ground, throwing our own kingships to the wind…Afterwards, we are out of control, going back home by a different route, yet realigned correctly with what-is. Reality is still the best ally of God, and God always comes disguised as our life. (Excerpts from “Epiphany: You Can’t Go Home Again”, by Richard Rohr)

When the star in the sky is gone, When the Kings and Princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks, he Work of Christmas begins:

               To find the lost,

               To heal the broken,

               To feed the hungry,

               To release the prisoner,

               To teach the nations,

               To bring Christ to all,

                        To make music in the heart. (Dr. Howard Thurman, ‘The Work of Christmas”)




It is not over, this birthing. There are always newer skies into which God can throw stars. When we begin to think that we can predict the Advent of God, that we can box the Christ in a stable in Bethlehem, that’s just the time that God will be born in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe. Those who wait for God watch with their hearts and not their eyes, listening, always listening for angel words.

(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 85.)