Epiphany Meditation: 6th January 2016
Psalms 98 and 100
I wonder if non-Christians know what a joyful faith we have. They will have heard on the news of Christians complaining about issues such as gay marriage, the ban on wearing crosses at work, abortion and euthanasia, together with the decade of wrangling over women bishops – only now resolved. Some of these issues are worth addressing, but what a pity that it is often negativity that hits the headlines.
Not in today’s Bible readings, though. Epiphany is the day when we remember the visit of the magi/kings/wise men to the infant Jesus. They bore wonderful gifts, and we imagine that they were magnificently dressed, though that may be a wrong perception since they had travelled probably for many months. The magi saw in Jesus someone whom they were drawn to worship. With the gifts they had brought – gold and frankincense – they somehow knew of his royalty and of his divinity. They also knew something of what lay ahead for him and that is why they brought myrrh for his burial – a very strange gift for a young child.
Such a destiny could have cast a heavy cloud over Jesus’ short earthly life. However, we meet him in various parts of the gospels enjoying the company of friends, and eating and drinking with them. Among other events, he attended a wedding – then, as now, not a quiet occasion, but one associated with prolonged feasting and drinking. It would have been a large gathering, for the invitation extended to Jesus’ twelve recently-acquired disciples. Not only did he join in all the festivity, when the wine ran out he miraculously supplied more, and not just any wine, not “cheap” wine, but the “best”. I am no wine connoisseur, but I know enough to understand that once people have had plenty to drink already, they are not in a condition to judge anything – least of all the subtleties of wine. For this wine to have impressed the master of the banquet enough to penetrate his mild intoxication, it must have been something really special.
In performing this miracle – turning water into wine – Jesus was actually only speeding up a natural process, something that was part of creation. It is water that makes vines grow, making them produce flowers and fruit, swelling the grapes so that they are full of juice and sweetness. Then under the right conditions, yeasts already present on the grape-skins cause the crushed fruit to ferment and produce alcohol – water into wine. God had been doing it for thousands of years.
God intends his people to be joyful, to “shout for joy … and worship with gladness … to enter his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:1-2, 4). He wants to hear our joyful songs and music; to hear us “shout before the Lord, the King” (Psalm 98:1,4-6). It is not purposeless joy, however, and certainly not caused by wine or any other substance. The reason we have for our joy is the salvation God has provided for us. “His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation … he has made his salvation known … all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 98:1a, 3a).
As we face a new year, let us hold fast to our faith so that we can “arise and shine” and know that our “light has come” (Isaiah 60 v 1). It is God’s salvation that provides the joy and light for our world, even in the midst of the “thick darkness” of troubles. We can identify ourselves with the sons and daughters who come in joyful assembly before the Lord, seeing the “wealth on the seas …riches of the nations” brought in, even “camels … bearing gold and incense” (vv 5-6) as they did two thousand years ago, to the infant Saviour, who lived and died to give us lasting life and joy.
By Susan Thorne