Transfiguration of Our Lord (C/RCL): “The Candle & the Mirror That Reflects It”
Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-43a
February 6-7, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
We all know winter arrived late this year, and fall lingered long. Nobody got frostbite stringing Christmas lights; December was so mild we actually turned the air conditioning on in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve. When winter finally made its appearance a couple weeks ago, it sure got our attention with Jonas, the Blizzard of 2016. (Who even knew that blizzards are named like hurricanes??)
I’d say many of us are ready for spring. Instead of going to Florida in February, I buy tulips – a little preview of what’s to come. I got a tip about tulips recently – ask where they come from before you buy them. Nothing against our friends in the Netherlands, but tulips will last longer if they haven’t had to make a transatlantic journey in the darkness of a cargo hold. Tulips, like sunflowers, are “phototropic,” which means they follow the sun. When there is no sun, they seek the sun anyway and get stressed out.
Light is at the heart of the Epiphany season which is now drawing to a close. When the infant Jesus was taken to the Temple, the faithful old man Simeon recognized Him as the Messiah and sang a song of praise to God in which he called Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel we hear a song sung by John the Baptist’s jubilant father Zechariah, in which he prophesies:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79
In St. Matthew’s Gospel what served as GPS for the wise men traveling from the East to worship the King? A star! (Matthew 2:2) An orb of light….
This last weekend before Lent begins, the Scripture is saturated in light. In the first lesson,
“the skin of [Moses’] face shone because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34:29)
In the Gospel “the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29) as the disciples saw Him transfigured in glory.
Here’s the difference between Moses and Jesus, both of whom were apparently radiant like the sun and not simply glowing like a pregnant woman. The light on Moses’ face was transferred, borrowed from God; the light radiating from Jesus emanated from within. It’s like the difference between the sun and the moon. The sun, burning star that it is, generates light. The moon reflects the sun’s light.
Edith Wharton was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist whose life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries (b. 1862-d. 1937). She offered this wisdom:
There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
When a person of any age is baptized (like Baby William Brian this weekend) the assisting minister lights a baptismal taper from the Paschal candle and quotes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Billy doesn’t become light, but he becomes a bearer of Christ-light.
Do you have any glow-in-the-dark objects in your home? If so, you know that if they become dim you can “power them up” again by exposing them to bright light. If there are glow-in-the-dark stars on a child’s bedroom ceiling and they’re only faintly visible when you turn the lights out, you can train a big bright flashlight on each one and make them shine again. Like the moon, we can only reflect Another’s light. Like stars stuck on the ceiling, we sometimes lose our brilliance.
Do you remember what Moses did that left him radiant? He talked with God. Do you remember what Jesus was doing when He was transfigured? He was praying. When we’re close to God, some of God’s glory rubs off on us. God allows that to happen not to give us bragging rights, but so that others will recognize us as God’s messengers, close to His heart, and they will come to know God’s love. Do you think with Moses shining like the sun anyone questioned that he was a legit prophet of God?? Do you think after witnessing the Transfiguration Peter, John or James had any doubts left about Who and Whose their Master Jesus was?
It’s been said that Moses was radiant with God-light not just as a sign he’d been in close proximity to God or as confirmation that he spoke God’s own truth. Moses the messenger shone to teach us that the message is brilliant, in more than one way. The message from God to us is so dynamic, so life-giving, so spiritually charged and Life-essential that hearing it isnot enough. Even believing it isnot enough. We mustact on it!
Acting on God’s Good News, shining with the light of Christ and not simply basking in it, means leaving the glory of the mountaintop as Jesus and his three closest disciples did, and heading down to the plain, often a place of pain. The exorcism story at the end of today’s Gospel may have seemed unnecessary. The fact that it’s in brackets means it’s optional. I was up in the air about including it until I led our lectionary Bible study on Tuesday. One of our conversation partners pointed out that our lives have a lot more in common with what happens on the plain than on the mountain. We’re much more in touch with our need of healing than our wish to witness glory. We shine with Christ-light, we reflect God-light, when we keep company with “those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” like we heard in Zechariah’s song earlier.
This weekend we’re commissioning three new Stephen Ministers, lay pastoral caregivers, who will join others who already extend the care of our congregation to those in tight straits and painful or lonely places. Those who volunteer with the Furniture Bank and the Linen and Kitchen Brigades meet and minister to many whose homes and lives were set adrift by Sandy, or by illness, or by any of the other life events that make ends hard to meet and require us to reach out to others for help. Those who work with our Family Promise guests also are willing to be in conversation with those whose lives are in disarray and to lighten their burden a bit with food and temporary shelter. Food pantry volunteers likewise are willing to befriend those who are living through a tough chapter of their lives. Each of you is shining with the light of Christ and shedding Christ-light in the shadows and dark places of life.
It’s been said that if we only ever heard God the Father speak nine words to us, these would fill the bill:
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
Does that remind you of similar advice we heard from somebody else in a Gospel just a few weeks ago? How about this order from the mother of Jesus to the wait staff at the wedding reception at Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever He tells you!” (John 2:5) What does He tell us to do? “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Tulips follow the light. We, too, are intended to grow toward the Son. We do, when we go beyond simply receiving and believing His message, to embodying it boldly. We are not the Candle, but may we be like the mirror that reflects it. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham