Transfiguration Light Transforms Us
In Exodus 34:29-35 we see that Moses got a glimpse of God's radiant glory, just as the disciples of Jesus did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Our experience with Moses and the Israelites will help us not only sort out the meaning of Transfiguration's light but also help us have a truly blessed Lent and Easter because "Transfiguration Light Transforms Us." February 14, 2010.
There’s going to be a warming trend this week. On Monday and Tuesday we will see beautiful sunshine and eighty-two degrees. We’ll be able to eat lunch outside, and there won’t be a cloud in the sky. Sounds nice? I’m not done. On Wednesday it’s going to be dark and bitter cold. We won’t be able to tell when the sun rises or sets because a bank of clouds is going to roll in so thick that we won’t know day from night. By now you’re probably thinking, “He’s got a screw loose. The six-pack is there, but he’s missing the plastic thingy that holds it together.” But before you jump to conclusions about my mental state, let me assure you that I was not talking about the weather outside. I was talking about the climate inside your heart and mine. You see, today we climb the Mount of Transfiguration in order to bask in the warmth and brightness of the Son of God. But on Wednesday, we begin our journey down into the dark and cold valley of Lent.
How in all the world can we make the Lenten season meaningful? How can we avoid zooming through the next seven weeks as if we are on a speeding train, living as though Lent were no more special than a couple of Tuesdays in July? Here’s how. Take a look at the paraments on the pulpit, altar, and lectern. There is a reason why they are white today. There is a reason for this white stole and the “Alleluia” banner. The white and light take us up to the Mount of Transfiguration so that we can properly view and endure the starkness and darkness of Lent. While we need to walk with Jesus on the dark path to the cross in order to be honest with ourselves that our sin sent him there, we wouldn’t be able to stand it without Transfiguration’s flash of light at the beginning, pointing to Easter’s light at the end of the tunnel.
All of that will make better sense as we scale another mountain called Sinai. There Moses got a glimpse of God’s radiant glory, just as the disciples of Jesus did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Our experience with Moses and the Israelites will help us not only sort out the meaning of Transfiguration’s light but also help us have a truly blessed Lent and Easter because Transfiguration Light Transforms Us.
It does not burn us
The Israelite nation had been designed by God to bear the promise of the Savior, but they were enslaved in the land of Egypt. When the time was just right, God sent a deliverer named Moses and rescued them from Egypt, leading them to an out-of-the-way mountain, called Mount Sinai. Once encamped there, God called Moses up the mountain in order to give him the parameters for the relationship the Israelites would have with God until the Savior was born. Many of you might have a mental image of Moses coming down the mountain with the two tablets of stone inscribed with God’s commands, and then smashing them when he saw the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. Are you aware that Moses actually made several trips up that mountain to get messages from God? Every time Moses had a conversation with God, something very unusual happened to his appearance. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. Moses’ brother, Aaron, and all the Israelites were terrified. They probably felt like you do when someone takes a flash photo right in your face or when someone bangs on the bedroom light just after you started to snore. “Hey, Moses! Cover up! Put a veil on your mug! We can’t stand the brightness!”
A better request would have been, “Moses, tell us why your face is shining.” I suppose they could have figured out the answer. They knew he had just been in the presence of the holy God. But just to make sure, Moses called them close and said, “There is a reason for my shining face. God doesn’t allow sinners to just saunter up, look him in the eye, and ask about the weather. He’s too awesome, too pure, too perfect. His holiness would burn us up in a flash. But God allowed me into his presence in order to communicate important truths to you. My face is shining to remind you that God is holy and that his rules demand holiness from you. His laws expose all of your weaknesses, errors, and imperfections. You might be ducking and squinting, but you need to stand up and face the music. Face the reality of your sin. You’re not as great as you think you are. In fact, left on our own, we would start to stink like an old turkey carcass in the garbage, and no amount of human effort can serve as an air freshener to clear away the stench of our sin from the nostrils of God.”
The professional photographer takes your picture for a portrait and invites you to come back to look over the proofs and see if you want them to be touched up – cover up that mole, smooth out a few wrinkles, photo-shop out any blemishes – because the camera’s light picks out and enhances all your imperfections. That’s what God’s holiness does. Call it “the glory of the Lord” or “Transfiguration light.” Either way, his radiant holiness exposes our imperfections and sin. It exposes the moles of me-first thinking, the wrinkles of revenge, and the blemishes of bad-temper that swirl around inside. Transfiguration light makes transforms us from thinking, “My sins aren’t so bad” into thinking, “Oh, no! What am I going to do with the mess I’ve made of my life and my relationships?” We simply cannot stand in God’s presence – unless we are wearing miraculous sun-screen.
Can you imagine going into the studio of a photographer to review the proofs of a portrait, finding that none of the pictures shows any moles, wrinkles, or blemishes, asking the photographer, “Did you touch these up?” and she replies, “Not at all”? That’s the miracle that Jesus worked so we can stand before God. We would expect Transfiguration light, God’s holy glory, to expose our sin and burn us up. But Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us to make us holy, cleansing us by the washing with water through the word, and to present us to [God] as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). Because of Jesus, Transfiguration light functions in another way. Instead of making us recoil like the three disciples on that high hill, Jesus’ blood filters out all the UV rays of God’s blazing anger so that we can bask in the warm glow of God’s love. Just as Jesus walked with those disciples down the Mount of Transfiguration to his cross, he now hold his Transfiguration light in front of us like a flashlight so that we walk through the shadows of Lent in full confidence that, though our sins were the reason for Jesus’ Lenten sufferings, God still loves us, and we’ll make it through to Easter on the other side.
It does not fade
Did you catch what was happening to Moses’ face? When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. Don’t you want to join with the Israelites in asking, “Hey, Moses! What’s with the veil?” This is what Moses would have said, “As I told you, when I talk to God, my face gets shined up to reflect the blazing glory of God. His holiness is powerful and deadly. His commands depress people, humble them, and drive them to despair. But I have to honest and tell you that the glory of his holy law fades. I put a veil on when the shining fades because I don’t want you to think God’s laws are unimportant. But it does fade because God’s laws are not his final word to you. There’s another message God has for you which will never fade, the message of his love.”
Peter, James, and John wanted to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, but he said, “No! You can’t stay. It’s too bright. If we stay here, you’ll get burned by God’s holy glory. I’ve got work to do, and when I accomplish it, then you’ll get sun-screen. Then you’ll be able to bask in the glow of God’s love, and that love will never fade.”
Do you see tell-tale signs that our world is temporary? Did you feel the earthquake on Wednesday morning? Are you aware that the earthquake in Haiti, the war in Afghanistan, the in-patient list at the hospitals, the cold you had last month will not be the last bad things you witness in this world or the last crumby days you go through? Flowers wither. Clothes wear out. Cars rust. Bones get osteoporosis. Like the setting sun our earthly life slowly fades. What will sustain us? Where can we find any real hope? The warm glow of Jesus’ love endures. His Transfiguration light transforms us so that we walk with confidence that his love for us will not fade or change even though everything else does. Even death cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Today we have a reminder that the somber, dark days of Lent are about to begin as we bid farewell to “Alleluia.” On Wednesday the paraments will change to black, the color of sin and death, followed by purple, the color repentance and suffering. During Lent we will walk the dark trail to the cross once again. But before we do, there is one big break in the clouds. We climb Mount Sinai with Moses and get a glimpse of the glorious light of the Lord just as those disciples climbed the Mount of Transfiguration and got a glimpse of the Jesus’ glory. Keep that brightness in mind during the dark days of Lent as you stretch out your hand toward Easter. We might say, “Oh, if only Easter’s light and joy would last forever!” If only? Let’s take the veil off of our doubtful minds. Thanks to Jesus you and I will live on an eternal mountain with shining faces as we gaze into the eyes of the one who gave himself so we could be there! Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org/) on February 14, 2010