Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord gives us a preview of the reality about Jesus. In it, we see that He possesses a unique light that goes beyond the ordinary. As He encounters Moses and Elijah in the presence of Peter, James, and John, we see Him radiant and glorious, exhibiting a beauty that for our present age is hidden from us by the horrors of the cross. For now, the torture and suffering of His sacrifice is so appalling, so repulsive, that we tend to avert our eyes from Him.
As Isaiah described it: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, KJV)
But in the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we see Him with heavenly eyes. We see Him as we shall see Him one day when the great trumpet sounds, when the eastern sky is split, and Jesus comes again in beauty and power. He is truly the Light of the World, and in Him there is no darkness. None at all.
Both we and our Maker favor the light. We are creatures intended for living in light. So strong is our natural desire for light that it takes a great deal of training and discipline to function effectively in darkness. Our military has spent billions to be able to use the night better than our enemies, so great are the challenges of overcoming our natural aversion to darkness and so great the tactical advantage to those who can.
It’s been found in recent years that people who are denied light, or required to work nighttime jobs all the time, often develop depression or other mood disorders that can affect them both physically and emotionally. We are not mole creatures, unsuited for light, but lovers of light.
And judging by the Bible, so is God. He loves light. Recall, for example, the very first of God’s creative Words: “Let there be light!” He spoke, and it was so. God’s Word always generates new realities. Against a brooding, fitful darkness, God declares that there shall be light:
“And the earth was without form, and void;” Genesis 1 tells us. “And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Gen 1:2-3, KJV)
This verse led the Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann to speak of the discomfort of the darkness. In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Westermann writes:
“With the three clauses of the second verse, [Moses] seeks to describe the opposite of creation, the ‘before.’ The Hebrew expression tohu wabohu indicates a desert waste, analogous to the Greek chaos; its darkness is uncanny, something like what animals experience during a solar eclipse…” (Claus Westermann, Genesis, Eerdmanns, page 8)
Imagine the appalling darkness of the prophet Jonah while he was captive in the great fish. Jonah had tried to escape God because he didn’t want to do God’s will. So, inevitably, he ends up in the darkness, in the belly of the beast. It is threatening. It is a crushing darkness. The soul draws back from such darkness.
Indeed, the soul always draws back from darkness, both darkness around us and darkness within us. Large cities, Austin included, spend lots of money to give us some light in the darkness. But go out in the country a ways, visit the farm or small town or any desolate stretch of road or uninhabited areas, and you will remember just how dark the night can be, especially on an overcast night.
In days of old, there was much darkness, even in the castles of the wealthy and powerful, much more so in the huts of the common people, or out on the frontier. But here in the modern city, we try very hard to push the darkness back, because then we are safer, we are calmer and more confident, and thus we are happier.
And, if there should be any darkness of a spiritual or emotional nature swirling around in our mind or our souls, we know that we will be far better off if we can get rid of that, too. Hasten off to the pastor for the soul, hasten off to the psychotherapist for the mind. In some cases, both are necessary. You ought to pray to God for your rescue from this darkness, and do whatever you can not to yield yourself to the original chaos of darkness which the God of all good overcame with his good command, “Let there be light.”
Yet much of the world thinks and acts differently, and if the truth be told, so do we, much of the time. The beginning of St. John’s gospel account contains the following words: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19, KJV)
So, we will have—on account of our fallen, sinful nature—dark impulses of rage, of revenge, of violence, of lust. But let us not yield to them without a fight, without asking God to support us. Contend against them. Seek the light. He who overcame the physical darkness of the void can also suppress—yes, even destroy(!)—the darkness you harbor in your inner being. His glory and light and power was dimmed and even died on the cross, but His resurrection shines forth as a brilliant beacon to draw and guide all who dwell in darkness.
Imagine the joy of the blind men who were given light in Jesus’ miracles. Imagine even the much more modest joy of springtime, when the days lengthen and we enjoy some more sunlight. We are built for light. I am praising light, you see. I am making the point that humanity inclines—or should incline—toward the light.
So, let us incline toward Jesus!
It is the great promise of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, that we are heading toward Jesus, toward a world of light. There we read about light:
“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it.” (Rev 21:23-24, KJV)
A chapter later we are similarly told: “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 22:5, KJV)
Jesus is the light of the world. In him there is no darkness, nor shadow of turning. And therefore it is inevitable, I suppose, that when Judas went out from the Last Supper to betray our Lord, the Bible should include the note about the night:
“So, after receiving the piece of bread, [Judas] immediately went out. And it was night.” (John 13:30, NRSV)
And again, it is inevitable that when Jesus was dying, when He was hanging on that cruel, harsh cross, that reality should slip back toward that original restless chaos and darkness. And thus we have the strange and appalling phenomenon of darkness occurring in the middle of the day:
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.” (Matt 27:45, KJV)
From noon till three in the afternoon, our world was confronted by darkness and chaos. We risked slipping back into it. Only the mercy of God in raising up Jesus from death on the third day spared us from eternal darkness.
It is therefore with Jesus, the light of the world being displayed in all His brilliance and glory to His closest followers at His Transfiguration, that we head now into Lent. It is with Jesus, the Lamp to our feet and Light to our path, whom we move forward through life… into the years remaining to us, and only through Him we will into the eternity beyond:
And by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, we have the prophetic Word made more sure. As St. Peter wrote: “You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19, RSV)
This is our hope, that when darkness threatened humanity and when eternal night loomed, Jesus stood up to the darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” wrote St. John. (John 1:5, RSV)
Luther went on to elaborate about this in a Christmas sermon: “This is our theology… Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap…And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born… For if I receive even the costliest and best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior… In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No—sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, ‘To you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, Sermons, “On Christmas Day, 1530), pages 213-14)
Imagine that on some summer evening, you were to accidentally swallow a firefly. You don’t choke on it; you just swallow it. And more, imagine that this firefly shows so brightly and powerfully within you that it actually illuminates your face and causes your clothing to become whiter than any bleach or other chemical could make them. And then, imagine that this illumination causes you no harm, but rather works toward your happiness, health, and joy.
That’s the way the Lord’s Supper works in us. God has promised this in the Blessed Sacrament to which we are now bidden. When we take the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus into our mouths, Christ first forgives our sins and gives us eternal life, and then works to shine in us and through us, out into a world too much caught in a swirling, appalling darkness. Let Him who is the Light of the World radiate out through us, by living lives of holiness and goodness.
Redeemed, forgiven, and saved, we are given His love and grace to cheer others around us. The Savior who was once transfigured on the mountain now shines forth forever from the heavenly place, bringing light into the dark world and into each dark heart He touch. We, too, are cheered by His presence.
Jesus is revealed to us in glory and shines forth forever more, as St. Peter writes in our epistle lesson this day: “like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Jesus Christ has become our light and our life, and He will remain so forever. To Him be the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.