One of the most splendid, beautiful, and (to my mind) moving liturgical texts of the Christmas and Epiphany season is the Magnificat antiphon, Tribus miraculis, recited before and after the Magnificat at Second Vespers on the feast of the Epiphany.
Tribus miraculis ornatum, diem sanctum colimus: Hodie stella Magos duxit ad præsepium: Hodie vinum ex aqua factum est ad nuptias: Hodie in Jordane a Joanne Christus baptizari voluit, ut salvaret nos, Alleluia.
Now do we celebrate a holy day, adorned by three miracles: Today a star led the Magi to the manger; Today water was made wine at the wedding feast; Today in the Jordan Christ vouchsafed to be baptised of John, that He might save us, Alleluia.
The tribus miraculis, the three jewel-like miracles of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, and the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, are in a mystical way brought together by this antiphon in the sacred liturgy, and presented as one single event, one single action of God. The coming-amongst-us of God made Man in the person of Jesus Christ does not extend simply to the event of His birth, but to the full repercussions of His holy incarnation, his enfleshment. The uncreated Creator has, in Christ, taken on our human nature in order to be like us in all things but sin.
This extraordinary gesture shows us, first of all, the goodness of God. Despite our disobedience, God has determined that we are worth saving. Not out of any need on His part, but simply out love. And so He sends His only-begotten Son as our Redeemer, to bring us back from the waywardness of our former ways, of sin, and to bring us once more into the fullness of His light and His love. In order to do this He does not send His Son as a messenger, a prophet, but rather inserts Him fully and unequivocally into our human nature. It is an act of profound love and grace.
How does this come about? In His incarnation and birth at Bethlehem in Judea, God pierces the veil between heaven and earth, and in Christ takes on our human nature, forever changing it and thereby reestablishing for us the way back to the Father. In His baptism in the Jordan river, the same Christ, though sinless, is nevertheless immersed in the waters, forever changing them into the laver of regeneration which flows to us now from the baptismal font. And in His first miracle at Cana in Galilee, Christ again takes water, and now and transforms it into wine; He takes what is natural and imparts to it something greater. Water becomes wine, nature becomes super-nature, existence becomes life.
That this takes place at a wedding banquet is also pause for thought. Wine, the preeminent sign of charity and hospitality, is through the intervention of Christ restored to a world that had lost a taste for it, that had become hostile to His love. The True Vine produces wine that does not fail, but is instead superabundant, wine which in the words of the Psalmist “gladdens the heart,” not through cheap intoxication but through the giddiness of pure love, of sober inebriation. He brings to us in the feast the calix præclarus spoken of anew by the Priest at the altar in the Canon: the chalice of perfect charity, of perfect self-offering, of sacrificial love. Indeed in the preparation of the chalice in the ceremonies of the Mass the Priest commemorates this mingling of God with Man, of divinity and humanity, mixing with water and wine together as saying, “…by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
The question this leaves us with is, what do we do with this gift? What do we do with this perfect wine? Leave it un-drunk? Let it go stale and bitter? Spill it or water it down? Please, no. Rather, let us come joyfully to the feast, take with good cheer the abundant and perfect charity offered us by the Lord; let us drink deeply from the chalice of salvation offered anew in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and, renewed and revivified by so great a gift, let us also call others to draw out the new wine, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord, that with Saint Jerome the whole world might say: “O Lord, You have inebriated me with the mystical chalice that I might confine to oblivion all the concupiscence of my former way of life.”