There is something almost mystical about the beginning of a new year. It is exactly what Epiphany calls forthâwith the coming of Light, with the announcing of the coming Kingdom of God, and the revealing of the well-beloved Son at his baptism, we enter into a new year, a new season of hope. All will be different, we pray, and this will be a better year than the last. God only knows how desperately we need this hope in our troubled world; 2006 was a tragic year for so many people caught in the misery of war and of poverty. So much has gone wrong. But even with this awareness, we human beings cling to hope. We always think the new must be better than the old, and we enter each new year hoping.
For many it starts with a kind of partying that reveals only desperation. For others it comes quietly, maybe in regretful loneliness; for those of us who delight in Godâs steadfast love, as todayâs chosen psalm affirms, we prefer to study and pray, to savor the season of Epiphany with its many-layered meanings.
The Gospel of John is quite different from the synoptics, and there is something absolutely fitting in the story he chooses to tell of the first sign that ushers in the public ministry of Jesus. It happens at a marriage feast. So many hopeful firsts come together in this story.
Of course a marriage is the beginning of a new life for the couple. Some very special guests have been invited: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her firstborn son, Jesus, who has assembled a group of followers. It is the beginning of a ministry that will change the course of history. But no one knows this at the time of the wedding celebration. The first hint of it will come during a peasant wedding party in a peasant village. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Creative energy surges through this story, like the energy of new hope that greets the beginning of each new year. Natureâs process of the cultivation and fruition of the vine is abbreviated through the creative power of the One who has been here from the beginning, as John says so eloquently in the prologue to his gospel: âAll things came into being through him, and without him no one thing came into being.â Every sign that John recounts in his gospel is explained by this one statement. So Jesus turns the water into wine and the word goes out that this particular guest is not ordinary.
On many occasions throughout his intense, short ministry, Jesus will try to avoid the use of miracles; at the beginning of this occasion he does resist his motherâs insistence that he do something about the lack of wine. We cannot know what caused him to change his mind, to show that âhis time has comeâ at least in partially revealing his glory. The only ones at the wedding feast made aware of his tremendous interference with nature are the servants and the small group of disciples. They are the ones who matter now. âJesus did this, the first of his sings in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.â From now on they will stay with him through both the glory and the pain, and later, they will remember, they will understand, and they will proclaim the kingdom which they witnessed being ushered with this sign.
Years later, the apostle Paul will try to interpret miracles as gifts of the Spirit to the hard-headed Corinthians. He makes it quite clear that nothing of value happens to the faithful community without the power and intervention of the Holy Spirit. In todayâs epistle he says clearly: âTo each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.â The common good: looking at todayâs story told by St. John we may wonder, What is the common good in turning water into wine in a particular home in an obscure peasant village?
There may be no definitive answer to this question, but there is a truth that shines through, a reality that makes the hope for this new year beginning for us even more significant.
Jesus did enjoy life and wanted others to enjoy it to the fullest also. He is not a gloomy guide but a joyful friend. He tells us in fact, âThis is who I am; follow me.â There is goodness in life and in the meaningful occasions of our lives. We all have emerged from a season of companionship with family and friends, a season of feasting and music. As we enter into this new year of our lives, let us remember that the Lord of life contributed to the joy of a wedding feast, blessing it with his presence and blessing nature with his gift of abundance.
âBehold I am doing a new thing.â May everything that is new and good and whole be revealed to us in this season of Epiphany as a gift of the Spirit so that our joy may be complete.