-Fr Martin Browne OSB

‘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. … From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ These words from the first chapter of the Gospel according to John summarise the key message of the Christmas season. The Eternal became human – ‘the Word became flesh’. The Holy One revealed his majesty in the person of his Son – ‘the glory as of a father’s only son’. God shared his very self with us through Jesus of Nazareth – ‘from his fullness we have all received’. Each Christmas we are drawn ever deeper into this truth: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us… It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’

That making known was not a single moment. The manifestation of God made visible in Jesus is what we celebrated at the feast of the Epiphany. The arrival of the Magi from distant lands has long been seen as representing the revelation of Christ as Saviour not just of the people of Israel, but of all peoples. The Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday, even though it recalls a moment from thirty years later, has also always been seen as part of the mystery of the Epiphany, because it recalls the revelation of Jesus as the Christ by his Father: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And even though we have left the Christmas season behind us, and taken down the decorations, today we have heard of a third moment of Epiphany, when, by turning the water into wine, Jesus revealed himself to his own friends: ‘[He] revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’.

It doesn’t say that the disciples were merely impressed with or intrigued by Jesus. It says that they ‘believed in him’. Believed what, I wonder? Believed in him as the ‘Word made flesh’? Believed in him as the revelation of God’s glory ‘as of a father’s only son’? Believed in him as the one from whose ‘fullness we have all received’? That is how the Gospel speaks of Jesus just a few verses earlier, so there’s a good chance that this is what the author is speaking about when he says the disciples ‘believed in him’. I find it really striking, then, that despite this moment of epiphany, the disciples’ belief in Jesus was not perfect or tidy – not even remotely. This story is from Chapter 2 of St John’s Gospel and the remaining nineteen chapters recount numerous instances where the disciples seem to have lost that belief, misunderstood it, or forgotten it. The miracle at Cana was the first of his signs. There were many more, and the Gospel of John speaks of several: healing a royal official’s son, healing the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, healing the man born blind and raising his friend Lazarus from death. Yet, despite their belief in him, and witnessing these signs, and hearing his teaching, most of the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested on the eve of his Crucifixion; and of the two who remained, Peter denied him three times.

Looking at the Gospel as a whole, it would be easy to caricature the disciples as stupid or fickle – as cartoon characters, who, despite blindingly obvious evidence, just don’t ‘get’ it. But the Gospel says clearly that when Jesus revealed his glory in Cana, they really did ‘believe’ in him.

This reminds us that faith – belief – is something that needs to be nourished and fed. It needs to be worked at. In a few moments, we will sing the Creed, professing to believe in the key tenets of the Christian faith, and most of us will, I presume, do so sincerely. Yet we all have moments when we struggle to believe. Faced with famines and natural disasters, or with senseless horrors like the murder of a young woman out for a jog in Tullamore earlier this week, our confidence in the loving kindness – or even the existence – of God can be shaken. Also, just like the disciples, fear or temptation can cause us to ignore him. Or less dramatically, we can simply get careless and forget about God – clinging to the badge of belonging to the Church, or the parish – or even the religious community – without considering the implications of what we profess to believe.

The miraculous transformation of water into wine was the first of many signs given by the Lord Jesus. But signs don’t exist in a vacuum. A sign can only function as a sign if someone sees it. The many signs and wonders that characterised the ministry of the Lord and which we encounter in the scriptures are for us – to show us who he is – to, as the Gospel says, ‘reveal his glory’. We need those signs, because believing in God’s goodness, and in the astonishing news that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’ is not something we do just once. It is something we need to do afresh every single day and his signs help point us in the right direction.

When told about the wine shortage, Jesus, answered his mother somewhat sharply, declaring that his hour had not yet come. His hour came not in Cana, but some years later, outside Jerusalem – at Calvary. That was the reality to which the sign in Cana was pointing: when he would transform not water into wine, but death into life. That was the true and ultimate revelation of his glory – the true Epiphany. It is that mystery which is made present every time we gather around the altar.

From his fullness we have all received…’








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