There is a God who changes water into wine, and there is a God who changes wine into water. These two Gods are one God, and both of them are difficult to trust, though for radically different reasons.
There is a God who changes water into wine. He attends our weddings. He brings gift-wrapped boxes spilling over with love, commitment, fidelity. He transforms the two into one, loneliness into unity. He is present at our baptisms and confirmations as the master of ceremonies. He makes friends from enemies, sons from orphans, diners from the famished. At our graduations and our birthdays he stands ready to transfigure the day into one brimming with smiles and laughter and unforgettable memories.
There is a God who changes wine into water. He lurks in the corner of the court room as the divorce decree is issued, when that which man must not put asunder is indeed put asunder. He is there when the son we shipped off to fight in a faraway land returns home missing a leg or an arm or the desire to live. When the wind howls, our tears stream, and the cemetery dirt sticks to our polished shoes, he is there. He is present, converting joy to grief, hope to desperation, life to death.
The man with water despises the God who stole his wine.
It may seem easy to believe in the God who changes water into wine, but it is not. For when man is at his happiest, he thinks the least of the true source of his joy. He falls in love with the gift, whether that gift be a wife, a career, a child, a salary. His glass is full of wine, and the pleasure he derives from it is so great, that he becomes intoxicated on the blessings he enjoys. He does not lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord from whom all good gifts come. The man with wine forgets about the water—and the God who transformed it.
It may also seem easy to believe in the God who changes wine into water, but it is not. For when the gifts of God are taken from a man, he very often becomes angry at heaven for repossessing his joy. The wife he lost, the career he shattered, the child who died, the home or reputation or money or friends that are no more. With their disappearance appears bitterness and darkness you can touch. He gives God the silent treatment, but there is a scream on the other side of that silence. Rather than turning to the only one who can give rest to his restless soul, he slouches toward promiscuity or alcohol or a loaded pistol. The man with water despises the God who stole his wine.
There is a God who changes water into wine, and a God who changes wine into water. And there is a God who has experienced both of these transformations personally.
He knows the joy of a loving mother who stood by him even to the point of death. He also knows the Father who forsook him in his hour of deepest need. He knows what it’s like for the crowd to roll out the red carpet for his arrival. He also knows what it's like a few days later for that same crowd to howl for his blood. He knows what it means to have food aplenty, and to fast forty days and forty nights. He knows what it is to be at peace and attacked; to love and to lose; to live and to die.
He is our God, this man, this Jesus. And when water becomes wine, or wine becomes water, he remains the same—the very incarnation of love and fidelity. He is always working toward the same goal: to take us into him, to be and bear his image, so that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.
Then all we will see is not the wine or the water that touches our lips, but the hand of the loving God who holds the chalice. He alone is the gift. And gifted with him, we have everything.