1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
1But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
John Muir was a naturalist, conservationist, and is widely considered the father of the national parks movement in the US. His journals have been a source of inspiration to generations of people who see the divine nature of God in creation. He describes what he saw as we hiked through mountains, forests, and prairies in poetic and spiritual terms. He wrote, after a short but sudden storm, “A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.” Like John Muir, I believe that God shows love and beauty and majesty through and to nature and I love all the nature symbolism in our readings this week. Psalm 29 tells us of God’s powerful voice, forests, and cattle. Our Gospel (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22) gives us fire, water, and a dove. And in Isaiah, we hear the good news that was first proclaimed to an exiled Israel – through the waters, God will be with them and God will gather the scattered people from every corner of creation. But using this creation language isn’t all just about tranquility and beauty.
Using images of nature, especially water, might seem quaint, but it is also extremely symbolic. Waters, in the ancient Hebrew world, was code for chaos. You can’t control water. You can contain small amounts of it – a cup or a tub – but you cannot control how it acts in large amounts. Water may be just as likely to flood a field as it is to water a crop. It’s just as likely to destroy as it is to refresh. It’s unpredictable – a group of people fishing may catch more than they expected, or they may find their nets empty. We rely on water, but we cannot control it. The same is true of fire, which John the Baptist uses in our gospel. We need it to cook, but a fire can also destroy. A candle can light a room, but it can also burn down a house. It can refine gold or become a disaster. If we put our minds to it, I imagine we could find countless ways in which the beauty of nature can also become chaos.
So what does it mean, then, to see these creation images in our texts today? It means that God is aware of how things of beauty can become things of chaos. We see references in our Isaiah text today to creation – God created the world and God called each and everything “good”. That is true of you, too. God created you and called you “good”. Richard Rohr calls this “original blessing”. But we can certainly see how things that were made good do not always act that way. All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll quickly see that what was made good is not always perfect. Whether it’s natural disasters, abuse, racism, sexism, or greed, it is not hard to see that this world, although created and called “good”, is not always acting that way. As individuals who make up this world, the same is true of us.
But there is good news. In Isaiah, we hear a promise which I hope we can all hold dear. That promise is that God is with us through the waters and through the fire and through whatever else we may face. Through anything we have done or have failed to do, God has remained faithful. God knows what you go through; God knows temptation, grief, joy, pain, and illness. God knows that sometimes it feels as though the world is breaking us, burning us, and drowning us. God knows your struggles and God knows your strengths. And through the waters, God is there with you.
As we celebrate the baptism of Christ and another baptism today, we recognize God’s presence in every moment. Through water and God’s Word, we find that God has claimed you as a daughter and son of God. Through the waters, God is there, walking with you. Whether the waters feel like a gentle shower or a raging flood, God is there. And through the waters of baptism, we witness God’s promises to love unconditionally and remain faithful. We hear the promises in our baptismal liturgy – that God has loved you from the beginning, that God has claimed you as children, and that, through whatever waters you may face, God is with you. We are claimed and we are gathered, through baptism and Holy Communion, with God and all of God’s people.
As forgiven and claimed people of God, gathered from every corner of creation, through the waters and fire, we are changed. God’s love never will never make you change – God loves you as you are, not as you might someday be – but it will never leave you the same either. As we come to grips with our belovedness, as we experience God through the waters, we will live lives reflecting that love which creates, claims, and gathers us. Our baptismal liturgy challenges all the baptized to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” In our belovedness, because God is with us through the water, we will stand up against injustice, give voice to the voiceless, help those who struggle, care for the sick, and comfort the grieving.
This is easier said than done, especially when it is us who need the comfort and care and voice. When the waters we experience feel more like a flood than a drink, when the fire feels more like a wildfire than a candle, it’s hard to see God in the chaos it all. It’s hard to feel beloved when we feel wretched. The promises of baptism are not promises that everything will be perfect, but that you are never alone. The promises of baptism remind us that, like all of creation, God sees you and calls you “good.” Jesus himself is our example of this. Today, we hear that he was baptized and God called him “beloved” and “son.” We know about his resurrection, his new life which grants eternal life to all, but we sometimes forget about his strife, his grief, his death. We forget, sometimes, that a life marked with the promises of baptism will sometimes be a life which hurts. But it is also a life marked with love and it’s a life marked with grace and a life lived in a community of gathered and beloved people.
Whether the waters around you today feel like a day at the beach or you’re just treading water, God is with you. Whether the fires you see are raging out of control or are warming your soul, God is with you. Whether you’re lost in a forest of fear or enjoying the shade, God is with you. You are gathered and welcomed. You are claimed as a daughter and son. You are created good. You are loved. Through the waters, you are not alone. Amen.
41Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” [
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]