A sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Luke 9:28-36
We bring this season of ordinary time to a close this Sunday, reconnecting with the joyous event of life and light we celebrate on January 6, the Epiphany. Throughout this season of ordinary time there is an emphasis on the themes of light and dark. This feels especially fitting for us, in this place, in this time. Being residents of the Pacific Northwest, January and February are times we bundle up and stay inside to avoid creeping cold, days that are certainly growing longer still feel enveloped in darkness. It doesn’t help that our worst patterns of wintery weather tend to hit during these weeks, shrouding our day light in grayness. It also feels like, perhaps especially so this year more than past (although that just might be a terrible case of recent bias), that our public discourse has experienced an especially stark period of darkness these past few weeks as well. We seem to have forgotten that we are called to live in harmony and peace with one another. We seem to have forgotten that our first call as Christians is to help the least among us, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to protect the vulnerable fleeing conditions we would never choose ourselves to be in. Rather, we seem to have embraced the darkness of winning an argument, when real lives are at risk. We seem to have embraced the darkness of allowing bullies to get their way.
But, nonetheless, with all of this darkness that seems to pervade in our physical world and in the communal world we share as a society, we still embrace the story of the light that has come to be among us. We celebrate that light on Epiphany in the form of a star that has guided us home. We celebrate that light today in the presence of God made real, in the face of Moses, in the personhood of Christ.
The light that is the presence of God in this world is physically realized in today’s lessons. Moses comes down from the mountain, from being in the literal physical presence of God, shining. This frightens the people, so much so that Moses has to veil the face because the reality of this light is too great for the people to handle. They recognize its source, they understand what it means, but nonetheless it terrifies them. It terrifies them because this shining of Moses is a sign of the authority that has been placed upon him directly by God, it is a sign that God cares for his people so much that God is willing to physically be present with Moses as he leads them out of Egypt. Their fear prevents them from truly coming into a full relationship with God because they refuse to be in the presence of God through the light emanating from the face of Moses. Their fear keeps them veiled from the true glory of God. Being one degree removed from the physical presence of God is a pretty big deal it would seem.
The light that comes upon Christ once more also astounds, but through Christ, it also inspires. Peter “said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’–not knowing what he said.” I feel for Peter in this moment. He has just had his mind blown. How many people have been this close to the physical presence of God, the great glory of light shining in Christ, the presence of Moses, of Elijah? And, he tries to do something to comprehend what has just happened. He falls back on what he knows. Let’s stay here, in this moment, and be in this presence forever. But, that’s not the point of this moment. The point of this moment is the light that is made manifest in Jesus Christ as authority is passed to him from God, as God speaks, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!”
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!”
This is the light of the world. This is the one who will fight back the dark. This is the one who will lead you to me. This is the one that I have chosen, listen to him, follow him, be like him.
This study of light and dark over the past few weeks is important work we do every winter. It’s a reminder that the light will always fight back against the dark. It’s a reminder that the light is always here to guide us. It’s a reminder that even in the darkest moments, light finds a way to guide us out, to fill us with hope, to lead us back. Jesus Christ is clearly that light, and this reality is reinforced as God imparts another source of guidance and authority in Christ, his voice.
Just as much as the light guides us out of the dark, so too does the voice. When our vision is taken from us, we call out “listen to the sound of my voice,” in order to guide one back to safety. The voice can cut through the darkness, can bring light into spaces where no light has ever been. The voice of Christ has the ability to do this for us, to be the presence for us, to guide us, always. When we listen to Christ we allow the light of Christ to fill us from the inside out. When we listen to Christ we invite that light to always be our marker, our guide, as we go out to beat back the darkness of the world.
And, this is part of listening to Christ, of recognizing the light that is inherently within him, that is made manifest in this moment of transfiguration, that we take this voice, this light, out into the world and share it with the world.
It is easy to let the darkness wash over us. It is easy to give into the darkness that seems to be unceasing, that, like the mythical hydra of old, springs up three new heads for every one that you cut off. Particularly now in our society that seems to delight in the darkness of the world, that celebrates and gives voice only to those who seemed destined to always fight against one another regardless of the topic, destined to fight with one another as the world collapses around them, destined to fight with one another as the darkness envelops the world and snuffs out any light. When this full embrace of the darkness is allowed to become the news of the day, it’s easy to see how and why we are willing to give into that darkness, to allow that darkness to inform and influence how we approach this world, how we approach our creation, we approach our siblings in creation.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. The light is here for us. The voice of Christ is here to stand against this embrace of the dark. The reality of a life lived in Christ is made clear in the scriptures, the authority of Christ is made clear in the transfiguration today, the light of the presence of God in this world is made clear today. Our challenge is to embrace this light, rather than demand a veil to be taken up between us and it. For that is what we do in embracing the darkness. We put a veil up so that the light is not fully realized. We put a veil up to hide our embrace of the darkness as much as we put a veil up to hide the glory of the light.
As Christ is transfigured on the mountain today we could do worse than Peter in simply having our minds blown and trying to do something with the glory that is before us. Sure, he doesn’t really know what he is saying, and his suggestion is basically brushed aside as God booms out in the next verse, but at least Peter is embracing of the light that is made manifest in Christ. This is our call today as we end one season and prepare to begin a new season.
This upcoming season of Lent is about preparation. Preparation for the events that will see the true reality of Christ made clear. Preparation for the role that we must take as followers of this new way of love that Christ leaves for us. In preparing for this next season of our life in faith, we are called to reflect on the duality of the light and dark at play in this world. To reflect on how we embrace the dark, even when we don’t realize it. To reflect on how we can embrace the light, fully, without reservation, without hesitation. To let our minds be blown at the presence of God, in the majesty of the light made manifest in Jesus Christ. Embrace the light. Listen to the voice. And know, that Christ is with you, always.