Of Roses and New Wine…

"Love of Roses and New Wine," ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

“Of Roses and New Wine,” ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

©2016 Lynn Abbott

My BFF is a veritable Martha Stewart.   And yes, I stand in awe.

Her creativity and  generosity inspire me.    Hardly a week goes by that she is not creating for someone.

For this reason, it didn’t surprise me when she recently announced plans for an enormous family get-together to celebrate the birthdays of several family members.

Preparations included an elaborate dinner menu that included a bunny-shaped, cream cheese frosted cake. Gift bags for those with birthdays as well as all the younger members of the family were also made.

She definitely knows how to give in style.

"Love of Roses and New Wine," ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.The night before the big event, my dear friend texted me to ask for prayer.

I’m no Martha Stewart, but that I can do.

The weather forecast called for rain storms on the day of the party.  Since the interior of her home is comfortable but certainly not large enough to accommodate that birthday crowd, precipitation posed a bona fide problem.

She admitted she believed her request to be a  little “silly.”   After all, she had often prayed that rain would wash away the dust and drought in her region of California.

I understood how she felt.  Sometimes, I feel my requests might get in the way of some of God’s greater plans.  Yet, knowing her unselfish and giving heart as well as the amount of time and energy that she had given her preparations, I promised to pray.

Then, I ran to my heavenly Father.  I presented my case:  my BFF longed to honor her family; she planned a beautiful birthday celebration of her mother and a few others.

I humbly reminded Abba that my friend was actually “honoring her father and her mother.”  Would it be too much to ask that He stall the rain for a few hours?

I prayed throughout the day.  The last thing I remember before  succumbing to slumber was that I begged  God for a reprieve from rain.

All good, of course.

However, here’s the ridiculous part.  I did not expect God’s answer to be so tailor-made to my friend’s heart desires.

When I received word from my bestie the following evening that the rain stopped several hours before the party and didn’t begin again until after clean-up, I was both surprised and delighted.

Yeah, Abba is gracious and good like that.  All-powerful and all-knowing, He is able to accomplish what’s best for all His children.

Yet, His goodness frequently catches me off guard.  I ask, but I don’t always believe that the God of the universe will take time out from His “important” tasks to worry about me and my “parties.”

But I should know better.

After all, the whole of the gospels details God’s love and grace toward all people, both the worldly important and those who pass their lives in anonymity.

In fact, Christ especially sought out those who felt unimportant.  Who can forget Zaccheaus, the Samaritan woman, the boy with the fish and loaves of bread, the outcasts, beggars and lepers?

"Love of Roses and New Wine," ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.And of course, Jesus reminds us that if Yahweh provides for the birds of the field,  how much more will He provide for His beloved children, (Matthew 6)?

Okay, so I can accept that God cares enough to provide our food and clothing.  Jesus obviously promised that.

But to hold off rain for a party?  Where does that fit in?

Well, believe it or not, I recently discovered that God’s Word addresses such a question.  Indeed, God gives grace not only for critical necessities, but also for the small, seemingly insignificant details of our lives.

As you and I study the life of Christ, we see over and over again that  He directed His ministry to “the lost.”  Jesus didn’t hang out in palaces.  He didn’t hobnob with the rich or even the famous.

When He received criticism from the religious leaders of His day for spending time with the sick, the religiously “unclean,” the poor, and the outcasts, He answered, “The son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Luke 19:10).

You betcha.  Christ’s humble birth definitely expressed our Savior’s love for all people, the worldly insignificant included.  The angels announced Christ’s birth first to Shepherds, men who occupied one of the lowest rungs on the ancient, social ladder.

But the way that Jesus inaugurated His ministry particularly interests me.  After John the Baptist’s testimony and Jesus’ initial selection of disciples, Jesus attended a wedding.

That’s certainly not  the venue I personally would have selected for Christ’s “Messianic Coming Out Party.”

And if Messiah attended such an event, I probably would predict it to be the wedding of the century.

Such was not the case.  In fact, we are not even given the names of the bride and groom. Obviously, the host was not influential or even well-connected.  He was no Mr. Darcy.

In addition, there was nothing notable about the wedding. Little detail is recorded about the festivities.  And the only specific noted is not something anyone would wish to broadcast in high society:  the host ran out of wine.

Clearly, the family lacked financial means.  I know this for a fact because during that time, wine served as a dietary staple.  Rich and poor alike drank wine because water carried impurities and diseases. Thus, any basic menu must include wine.

For this reason, running out of wine posed an entertainer’s catastrophe.   Given the social position of the host, the guests likely expected simple fare.  But at the very least, guests would have expected something to quench their thirst.

True, a lack of wine would not shatter the universe.  The problem did not compare love-of-roses-and-new-wine-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkwith the hurdles faced by victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, war, famine or disease.

Lives were not at stake.  However, a courteous host would supply the basic necessities for his guests.

The circumstances at Cana offered an unusual start to Messiah’s ministry.  And His miracle, there in Galilee, most certainly kicked off His three-year discipleship program.  Luke notes that Christ’s miracle at Cana was His first Messianic miracle.

What’s up with that? Why did Jesus bother?

The guests could have gone home early.  No harm in that. But at Cana, Jesus demonstrated that He cares about ordinary folk and their everyday concerns.

Unquestionably, He would perform grander and more spectacular miracles during His three-year ministry.  If we read only of such, it would be easy to conclude that He sought out only the most desperate of cases.

But that would not be an accurate picture of our Savior.

To be honest, the miracle at Cana comforts me.  You see, I once thought I was too ordinary to be of value.

I thought my concerns insignificant.

I believed my burdens unimportant.  No need to bother God with my worries.

I distinctly remember sitting in church as a young teen and marveling over the dramatic testimonies of those who had been rescued from lives of crime, addiction, poverty and worse.

My life narrative lacked such story-telling power and  I questioned my ability to encourage others.

In response to others’ stories, I heard church members called out hearty “amens.”  Much applause rang through the building.  And rightly so.  We ought to celebrate when a lost brother or sister is found.

Undoubtedly, the Father celebrated when the prodigal returned home.  But the Father also loved his eldest son and had given access to all that the Father possessed.  The eldest simply needed to ask (Luke 15:11-32).

I’m not sure why he didn’t ask.   Maybe, like me, he felt he should wait for a big occasion.  Perhaps, he feared his father would dismiss his concerns.

Whatever the case, he didn’t avail himself of all that his father longed to give.

love-of-roses-and-new-wine-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkYup.  Sometimes, I carry on like an impoverished wedding host when Jesus stands waiting to fill my needs.

Or like the elder brother, I miss out on all that my heavenly Father has in store simply because I fear to ask.

That day at Cana, however, someone did  ask.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, certainly anticipated the day when her son would claim His identity as Messiah.

After His miraculous birth, she pondered each prophecy and promise given.

Then,  John the Baptist announced Christ’s authority; Jesus selected His disciples.

Mary likely thought the wedding an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate His Messianic identity.  She probably hoped He would dispel any doubts about His birth and mission.

But Jesus knew that a miracle at Cana would not ultimately prove His deity.  He knew that could only be established by His death and resurrection.

For this reason,  Jesus said, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come,” (Luke 2:4).

Even Mary did not fully understand the plan of God.  Cana would not crown Christ as our eternal King.

But Jesus did launch his earthly ministry that day at Cana.

What I love about His wedding miracle is that Jesus exceeded all expectation.

When the servants poured the miraculously created wine,  the headwaiter pronounced it better than what had been previously served.

Uh, huh. That’s the kind of generous and gracious God that we serve, (Ephesians 3:20).

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the wedding at Cana demonstrates so much more than Christ’s power over the natural world or His love for ordinary people.

Perhaps, Scripture doesn’t tell us the names of the wedding party in order to illustrate an extraordinary truth.

In fact, as I consider the events of that day,  I am convinced that Jesus chose to work a wedding miracle because His life represents the culmination of God’s incredible love story.

Throughout the Old Testament, God uses marriage as a picture of His loving relationship with the nation of Israel.  The New Testament develops the analogy further.

Jesus frequently spoke in parables that evoked images of marriage and family.  He even responded to the questions of John the Baptist’s disciples regarding fasting.

When asked why Christ’s disciples did not fast, Jesus said, “‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?'” (Matthew 9:15a).

The book of Revelation gives believers this future hope: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready,” (Revelation 19:7).

Thus, we wait for Christ, our bridegroom.  Having placed our faith in Him, we look forward to His return.

In the meantime, with boundless love, He graciously renews our lives with His good, (Psalm 103:5) .   He bestows beyond expectation.

That’s right. When He turns our water into wine, the wine wins every award.  He gives love-of-roses-and-new-wine-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkwhat’s best to His beloved.

He clearly demonstrates His love in the every day: providing wine for a wedding party, holding back rain for the duration of a birthday celebration, opening up a parking space for an overburdened mother, sending a word of praise or encouragement through another believer, or painting a sunset sky with vivid color…

Sure, our Savior showers us with grace in moments of life crisis.  I have no trouble recognizing God in those events.  But He also provides in the quiet and seemingly mundane.

Our Messiah cares about even the smallest details of our lives, (Lamentations 3:22-23).

A dear, artist friend of mine calls such gifts of everyday grace “God’s bouquets.”

I love that.

For this reason, I run to Jesus with my worries.  I carry my fears to Him.  I sit at His feet and pour out my tears.

And Jesus, the believer’s Bridegroom, responds with a “bouquet of long-stem roses.”

In His infinite love for you and me, He turns ordinary water into wine.

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy Faithfulness,”  ~Lamentations 3:21-23