start with joy.

“When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” John 2:3

               Happy New Year! It is time for a new beginning, and, new beginnings call for festivities. But, what happens when you are on day three of a seven-day party, and you realize that you have run out of wine? In John 2:1-12, the Gospel writer records what he describes as “the first of [Jesus’] signs.” In this first sign, Jesus transforms jars of water into good wine so that the guests at a Cana (a town in central Galilee) wedding can continue enjoying the festivities. This “sign” of Jesus only appears in the Gospel of John. At the time of this first sign, Jesus was spending time with His mother, brothers, and the disciples. As you begin the adventure of this year, remember to enjoy some time with your loved ones first.

               In case you are not familiar with the Gospel of John, John has a different tone from the other three Gospels and includes some stories, like this one, that do not appear in the other Gospels. John’s Jesus is highly poetic. For example, He teaches Nicodemus that to be saved; one must be “born again.” He tells a Samaritan woman that He can provide “living water.” He explains to the crowds that He is “the light of the world.” He refers to Himself as the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep.” He tells the crowd gathered at Lazarus’s tomb that He is “the resurrection and the life.” He explains to His disciples that He is “the vine” and they are “the branches.” It is in the Gospel of John that we receive Jesus’ constant reassurance that we will receive eternal life through Him.

               By now, you must be asking yourself why I am writing about Jesus turning water into wine during the first week of 2017. What significance does this story have in the lives of free agent Christian women in contemporary America? Life as a free agent Christian woman is not straightforward, but the journey is lighter when we remember to make joy our starting point and to carry joy with us always. How does this passage help us to find the joy we need?   

1.      Let’s hone in on verse two which tells us that Jesus was at the wedding because He, His mother, and His disciples had received an invitation. You might have read Natalie Brooke’s September 2016 article in the Huffington Post where she argues that getting married is not an accomplishment. She states that we should celebrate the professional achievements of women just as much if not more than their relationship status. I agree with Brooke that getting married ought to be described as a milestone, rather than an accomplishment, but the reality is that our milestones often alter our lives more significantly than our professional achievements. In 2017, you will have new accomplishments professionally. You will gain a new certification; you will return to or graduate from a school; you will begin a new professional project; you will start a new job or leave your current one. Professionally, you will do what you want because you can. Milestones stay with us. You can walk away from a dead-end job today. Our milestones, like choosing life partners, starting families, and aging are significant entanglements. The folks who were getting married that day thousands of years ago in Cana were celebrating a significant life change. They needed joy. They knew that if they wanted to start their union off well, they had to invite Jesus’ mother and Jesus and His disciples too! Milestones are coming up in your life in 2017. Have you invited Jesus and the friends of Jesus?  

2.     Verses 3-5 of this story stress me out! Jesus does something rhetorical here with His mother that we see Him do again in John 4 with the Samaritan woman at the well. He responds to a woman’s requests in ways that to my contemporary eye, seem downright disrespectful. Somehow, Mary was the first to know that the hosts of the party were out of wine. They were facing a bit of a crisis because guests could not be expected to remain another four days at a party that had inadequate provisions. These hosts knew who to tell about the problem. Maybe Mary had a reputation for convincing Jesus to fix town problems. We receive no indication as to how this couple knew that Mary could help them. All we know is that they asked Mary for help and that she took the problem to Jesus. Here is where things get tense. Mary tells her son that there is no more wine, and instead of jumping into action, which He does do in verse 7, He asks His mother what concern the lack of wine is to Him. What is more striking, however, is Mary’s response. She does not engage with Jesus’ question at all. Instead, she gathers a group of servants around Jesus and tells them to do whatever He tells them. Mary was a free agent woman from the day she knew she had conceived. Mary teaches us that when we have a need, we cannot be deterred just because we are asked to answer a few difficult questions. Mary expressed her need, then, instead of choosing to squabble with Jesus over semantics, she expected that He would fulfill her need. You have had some needs for years, but someone asked some questions, and you got distracted, and now here you still are, trying to make your needs palatable to another’s ears. Why?  Why are you waiting to claim your joy? Perhaps the questions you are being asked to entertain are negative or even inappropriate, trust me, I have been there. In fact, I live there, as you can probably tell from the length of this paragraph. The question is, are we going to allow disrespectful questions to steal our joy? In the Gospel of John, Jesus consistently asks just the right questions to push a sister’s buttons but, in all the Gospels, Jesus never turns a free agent woman away, so why would Jesus start turning us away now?

3.     Here is my last point about this story and I will keep it brief. The good wine might show up late, but if Jesus is at your party, it is showing up! In verse 10, we learn that the water turned wine that Jesus brought to the party on day three was the good stuff. Jesus did not show up with anything mediocre which He could have done. The chief steward says that most people serve inferior wine on the later days of the party because people are usually too inebriated to know the difference. But, not Jesus. This year, do more than simply to invite Jesus and His friends to join you in celebrating your milestones. Invite Jesus to fully show up for your milestones and be Jesus because Jesus wants you to have the kind of joy that only gets better as the days go by.

Free agents, in 2017, start with joy. My instructions are easier said than done. Personal, professional, and socio-political issues abound, but I dare you to choose radical joy in the face of the despair of this world. Invite Jesus and some of Jesus’ friends to take the journey of this year with you, block out the negativity that prevents you from receiving the things you need, and remember that if Jesus is with you, the joy only increases from here. See you next Monday.