First Things First: Jesus’ Miracle at Cana

Miracle at Cana

Turning Water into Wine at the Wedding at Cana / Fernando Gallego, 1480s

Are you ever offended at Jesus? He upset people from the very beginning. Some of us in the church haven’t liked everything he did for 2,000 years–least of all his sense of timing.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at a party, much to the consternation of those who think religion ought to be dignified and serious.

He brought the wine, much to the consternation of Christians who believe that anything alcoholic is evil. What was Jesus doing there in the first place, and what does it all mean?… Read the rest

Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest

Mary and the sneakiness of God

There is nothing subtle about how the world operates. We measure power by size. Each industry has one or two dominant and large corporations. The most powerful nations have some combination of the largest economies, international trade, military power, and diplomatic reach. Politicians vie to amass the most money so they can parlay their fundraising in to the most votes. God doesn’t work that way. Just look at how he prepared Mary for her role in God’s sneaky counterrevolution against the devil.

Satan appeared to win a great victory in Eden by corrupting the man and the woman God had made.… Read the rest

The birth of Christ happens every day


The New Testament uses the phrase “in Christ” or something similar more than a hundred times. It refers to Christ being in the believer less often, but those references are very important, especially during Advent as we look forward to the birth of Christ. In Colossians 1:27, Paul summarized his message as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And how does Christ get in us? The same way he got in Mary: it takes a miracle. If every day by that miracle someone accepts Christ, then the birth of Christ happens every day.

The day began for a young girl in Bethlehem the same way any other day of her life began, but at some point her life took a dramatic turn.… Read the rest

The Visitation: Don’t forget Elizabeth!

Between the dramatic stories of how the angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah and then to Mary, Luke mentions that Mary paid a three month long visit to Elizabeth, one of  her blood relatives and Zechariah’s wife. Although artists have painted or otherwise portrayed The Visitation for centuries, it is all too easy to read right past it. So let’s give Elizabeth her due.

Luke says she and her husband were blameless, but they may not have looked blameless to the rest of the people in their community. After all, the old priest Zechariah had never been chosen to light the incense in the temple.… Read the rest

Leaving Jesus behind

We have only one story of Jesus’ childhood, when he sat in the temple questioning the teachers while his parents had already started to return home. Surely every parent can identify with the multitude of emotions Joseph and Mary must have felt as they searched for their son.

Men traveled separately from women and children in those days. A twelve-year-old, one year from adulthood, could have plausibly traveled with either group. Only when they stopped for the night and families reunited did Joseph and Mary recognize that no one had seen Jesus. They had to return to Jerusalem to find him.… Read the rest

Joseph: the forgotten man at Christmas


I just heard a speaker say she had searched the web for contemporary Christmas songs about Joseph and found only three. I know of a few more than that from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of them are secular pieces that mock him for being a cuckold. Poor Joseph deserves so much better than that.

We can learn a lot about him by juxtaposing Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary told the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” the Holy Spirit probably came upon her immediately. In the very next verse, she was on her way to visit Elizabeth.… Read the rest

Mary’s commitment

There is an old Medieval carol that speaks of Adam’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit, but it ends by saying, “Blessed be the time the apple was taken. Otherwise, our lady would never have been heavenly queen”–basically giving thanks for sin so that people could worship Mary. Protestants look askance at Catholics for praying to Mary and honoring her as queen of heaven. Unfortunately, we have made up for it by virtually ignoring her, a worse mistake than honoring her wrongly. At least at Advent we pay some attention.

God deliberately passes over the great and prominent in order to do his work through the lowly and ordinary.… Read the rest

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why his mother had to be a virgin.

Most readers of Matthew’s gospel, I suppose, skip the first chapter entirely. After all, it is only a boring genealogy. But at least look at the first six verses. Genealogies in the Bible do not often mention a man’s mother, but Matthew took time to identify four mothers, and each mother reminds us of a particular sin.

The disgusting story of Judah and Tamar, told in Genesis 38, reads like the story line of the edgiest of soap operas. God took the life of Tamar’s husband, Judah’s oldest son Er, for unspecified wickedness. It then became the responsibility of the second son, Onan, to provide his brother with an heir by having sex with his widow.… Read the rest