With only 17 days left until Christmas, our collective anticipation is building daily. Some of us are waiting to receive that special gift we asked for. Others are waiting to give that special gift we hope will bless a loved one. Many of us are getting giddy looking forward to the food and fun with family, and friends. And then there are those of us for whom the season is all about dragging trees into our houses, and hanging bows off of them.
Wherever your joy lies in this season, it is something we have waited for all year. Waiting for Christmas is one of life’s easier challenges– all you have to do is continue to exist on this planet for 12 months more and it’s in the bag. Waiting for the expected, predetermined, and guaranteed occurrence requires very little effort or faith.
It’s waiting for the stubbornly unanswered prayer, the un-moving circumstance, the unrelenting disappointment, and the uncertain miracle that demands what is usually more than we have the capacity to give.
During Advent, even the most secular person recognizes the nativity scene, baby Jesus, mother Mary, step-dad Joseph leaning on his staff, while a collection of shepherds, wise-men and animals look on. We do not see the 33-year-old Christ preparing for the cross, we see an infant. A completely dependant and vulnerable BABY!! Jesus cannot even speak the words of life, all he has to communicate with are subtle variations of crying. This is the debut of the King of Kings, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Jesus started out as a “small thing,” like those that Zechariah dares us not to despise (Zechariah 4:10) The answer to everything came as a fist of mist, though we had asked for the hurricane storm clouds. I think of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights telling his family he likes to pray to “eight pound, six ounce, newborn infant Jesus” and I laugh, but is he on to something? Do we believe that the baby in the manger can heal us the same way as grown-up, bearded, and sandaled Jesus? Do we perceive “what would bring us peace” in the day of its coming, or are we still waiting for something else?
Now let’s fast-forward to the debut of Jesus ministry — the wedding at Cana. No one was in sackcloth and ashes weeping over a death, or suffering under disease or shame. This is a party – and the only thing gone wrong is that they ran out of wine. For many this would be a cause for intercession, but Jesus remained unfazed until mommy dearest made it his problem. John 2 unfolds the story. Mary informs Jesus “they have no more wine,” to which Jesus replies “woman, why do you involve me?” If there is a condescending tone in his voice, I can’t say with any certainty, but I like to think there is. Jesus’s eyes were always on His Father, and he was preoccupied with doing His Father’s will. Mary, like every mother, remembered little “eight pound, six ounce” newborn baby Jesus. Mary was there while the acorn become the mighty oak. She did not “dare despise the day, of small things” She saw an opportunity for a miracle in the mundane, or really in the unnecessary.
Though Jesus protested, Mary tells the servants “do whatever he tells you.” If we were the ones working the miracle that day, we might have had the servants bring over the water pots, and instantly they would be filled with wine. Or maybe transformed the pitchers ito bottomless wine dispensers. Jesus “gets” the opportunity his mother set him up for. He teaches us a little something about miracles, and answers to prayer. This is what Jesus does: John 2:6-7 “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said the the servants “fill the jars with water;” so they filled them to the brim.”
Jesus takes the ceremonial things and uses them out of context. He takes the sacred and makes it part of the celebration. It’s like coming to church one week to find the baptismal tank filled with Pinot. He takes their tradition, and their worship and he filled it with something new, something “out of place”–but I am getting ahead of myself.
The thing is, he did not fill the pots with wine. He told the servants to fill six, 30-gallon jars with water. That’s about 180 gallons. How many trips to the well did that take? They went back again, and again, and again, drawing out a miracle gallon by gallon. If we assume they carried a gallon at a time, that is 180 trips. 180 “small things.” I imagine at about gallon 90 their arms were beginning to get that sore, shaky feeling, maybe they spilled a few gallons along the way. Can you hear them mumbling to themselves “why are we doing this? what is all of this for?” I wonder if I looked into my bucket, anticipating wine, needing wine, but seeing only water, 180 gallons of only water, that I might get disappointed, even discouraged. I would probably be annoyed, maybe angry. I may decide this was nothing more than an exercise in futility, and another empty religious reaction. These servants may have felt all of that, but that did not stop them. They filled those jars “to the brim.”
After the jars were full, the servants gazed down proudly at their efforts, and saw…water, but Jesus gave them one more task – “Now draw some out and take it to the Master of the Banquet.” What!!!?? I just put all that water INTO those jars, now I have to take it OUT!!?? Yes, yes you do. Prayer after prayer you prayed, tear after tear you shed. Year after year you waited. Now your jars are full. Full of gallons of hope, promise and expectation. You dip one more time, and bring that cupfull to the Master. Maybe it’s a praise, or a prayer, or an act of faith or surrender during a season where even the most hardened heart believes the impossible can be possible. That final cup of water, drawn out of a place you usually reserve for something else, when offered to Him, becomes wine, and so do the 180 gallons of hope you poured into those jars.
May our jars be filled with hope this Advent season.