January 24, 2021 A+D
St. Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus had demonstrated His Divinity to His disciples many times by miracles. They were signs that pointed to His character and mission. They demonstrated His power in mercy.
At the Transfiguration, He does more than demonstrate His Divinity. He actually shows it to them. He, who is a Man, is also God. He is the Glory of the Lord. Matthew is quite explicit: they see His glory shining from His face.
Last week we heard in Exodus 33 that no one can see the Lord’s s face and live. Because of this Moses hid in a cleft in a rock. The Lord covered Him with His hand until He had passed by. Then He removed His hand and Moses was able to see His backside, but not His face. In a similar way, Elijah was on a mountain and the Lord passed by. A great wind tore into the mountain. It blew boulders about like leaves. Then an earthquake shook the mountain. Then the mountain caught on fire and burned like Hell itself. But God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. Elijah may have been terrified at those displays of power and wrath, but he gazed openly upon them. Then came a small, still voice. Elijah wrapped His mantle over his eyes.. The Lord was the Voice. Elijah dared not look into His face even if was small and still.
Moses and Elijah, separated in the history of men by 500 years, nearly 1000 years after Elijah left earth and 1500 since Moses died, stood together on a mountain, The Glory of the Lord was there, but He was not passing by. He has taken up residence in the tabernacle of skin. They do not hide their faces. They need no caves or mantles or shelters built by Peter. They need no protection from elements or wrath. The stand face to face with the Lord’s glory unveiled and they are unafraid and unashamed.
What no one could do, look God in the face and live, now anyone can do. Anyone can do it because the Lord has taken up a face of flesh and that face is set toward Jerusalem. He has become a Man in the image of God, a creature immaculate and pure who offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His glory is in self-giving. His throne is suspended between heaven and earth. It serves as the lens by which God judges us and reconciles us to Himself. It causes Him to look favorably upon us.
In Him was life, but now He lives. He is a living Man, alive. The message of Christmas and Easter is the same. Jesus lives. He walks the earth in flesh. His living is the light of men for He is the way, the truth, the life. Though His face shines like the sun, it does not burn us or dry us or oppress us. It is not only Moses and Elijah in their glorified state who can endure it. Peter, James, and John, forgiven but not yet perfected, believing and yet still having doubts, have no difficulty in looking directly at His shining face.
We once hid in darkness, shaking in fear of what was all around us, weak as a nest of newborn bunnies in the face of lawn mowers and determined cats. The strong man and his armies beckoned us from their power to join them or be destroyed. But they have melted away, exposed. They were nothing more than shadows and cobwebs, liars and fakes. The sun was hidden by the earth’s shadow from the eyes of men. It was night. But the sun was still shining. It shined through the night. It sustained life and gave warmth even though we were in darkness. The devil was always defeated and impotent. He could not stand against God. He has no ability to touch a single bunny or pollywog or blade of grass without the Lord’s approval. The Light has shined in the darkness, dispelling it, and the darkness has not overcome it.
But we were more than mere victims. Terrified of the darkness, in that bunnie’s nest we sought advantages against one another, acting out our fear on clothes with acts of violence meant to squash our uneasiness. We feared the Light and resisted. We thought it’d be like wind and earthquakes and fire, but it came in a small, still voice: “Do not be afraid. I bring good news. Do not be afraid. Jesus is not here. He is risen. Arise and do not be afraid. I am here to shield and rescue you.”
The war is ended and our peace obtained by the very One we sought to kill. We meant it for evil. He meant it for good. Our sins and plots, like demons and chaos, dissolve before and behind us, insignificant and gone in the rising sun, washed away by the cleansing Blood. For there is life in the blood. Jesus comes to us and touches us in the Holy Communion. He gently commands, “Arise. Do not be afraid.” And suddenly we have eyes only for Jesus.
We are honored by God to keep company with sinners and saints. To be sure we are no better than Peter in his confusion and attempts at self-preservation, but, at the same time, Moses nor Elijah do not outdo us in their glory. We have the prophetic word made sure. If Jesus is well-pleasing to His Father, then we, in Him, are also. We are well pleasing to the Father. Are we not Baptized into Him? Has He not declared us to be His friends and given us permission to look into His face and live? Are we not washed and declared righteous? Thus we stand and look Him in the eye. We do not look either with defiance nor in servile fear. We are those whom He has called. The morning star, even He Himself, has arisen in our hearts. We look and we follow. If He leads us to Jerusalem to die, sobeit. Those who believe in Him never die. For us to leave this world is gain. We have seen the Lord’s glory in the cross. Nothing can separate us from His love. And now He is risen from the dead. Let us tell everyone!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.