Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A magician was hired to do his act on a cruise ship. He had been there for several years and essentially did the same routine over and over again because the crowd was continually changing. He enjoyed the good life, soaking up the sun on the deck rather than building his craft and working on new tricks. One day, the Captain bought a parrot and accompanied him every night to see the magic show. Soon the bird learned all the tricks as to where everything was hidden by the magician in his act. The parrot would call out and say “The card is up his sleeve, the ball is under the pot, the money is hidden in his shoe.” The smart little bird caught on fast and it became hard for the magician to come up with new tricks to try and beat this bird. He dreamed of tying a brick to the dastardly parrot and throwing him overboard! Late one night there was a terrible explosion on the ship and it rapidly sank to the bottom of the ocean. Miraculously the magician was the only survivor, clinging to a piece of wreckage. As the sunrise dawned over the horizon the magician looked around. Sitting there perched on top of his wreckage was none other than that accursed parrot! The two just glared at each other and said nothing. This went on for 3 days. On the 4th day, the parrot finally broke the silence and asked “Ok, I give up. What did you do with the ship?”
“He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (MT 17:2). At first glance, this sounds like it might be some kind of magic trick, doesn’t it?! What did they do with regular Jesus?! Who is this gleaming man in dazzling white, looking like bleach incarnate?! But of course, it is the very same Savior who was born in Bethlehem. The very same one who had called and taught the disciples for nearly 3 years. The Epiphany season miracle today is a fuller revelation of our Lord’s Divine Nature which until this point was “veiled in flesh” as we say in the Christmas carol “Hark! The herald angels sing.”
Transfiguration literally means to transform, to change. The friendly neighborhood Greek scholar notes that the word is metamorpho where we get our English word “metamorphosis” from. Think caterpillar to butterfly or tadpole to bullfrog. That should visually drive home the point. We see this physically happen to Jesus in this text. And if that wasn’t enough miraculous stuff for you, Old Testament big wigs Moses and Elijah also suddenly show up out of nowhere. They represent the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, both pointing to the same place: the Transfigured Messiah. But the voice booming from Heaven makes it clear “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (17:5).
As wild and crazy as this seems, it is no mere parlour trick! This is the real deal. The Messiah. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is there, shining in the glory of uncreated light. This amazing event wraps up our season of Epiphany, the season of light and revealing. This absolutely incredible moment would be forever burned into the hearts and minds of the disciples. John wrote in his Gospel that “We have seen His glory” (1:14) and likewise, Peter, he also recorded this moment in his second letter that we heard this morning: “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16-18). And yet from the testimony of these 3 eye witnesses, billions and billions of people have come to believe the Gospel of Jesus. The power of our Lord’s transfiguration shows His glory and grace for us poor, miserable sinners. For the power that transfigured our Lord and revealed the fullness of His Divine essence is in fact the same power that transfigures and changes us.
Change. Metamorphosis. This is the goal of Christianity. The Lord always accepts us as we are but He never leaves us there, affirming our sinful state. Nope. The call of Christianity is to change and become something you weren’t before. This process begins at Baptism. It is through the water and the word that we are changed and become a new creation. God takes us from being dead in our trespasses and sins and makes us very much alive through His mercy and grace poured out on the cross and also poured out in the Baptismal font. The “power to change” is always God’s power that He shows and works through us. And, He invites us to participate in this change. He asks us to be coworkers with Him in this process. This involves repenting of our sins and turning away from them. It involves turning towards what our Lord wants and desires rather than what we want and desire according to our sinful nature.
You no doubt remember the good old days of tungsten light bulbs, right? Glowing their beautiful Donald Trump orange hue!? Long before the days of cost-saving, cool to the touch LED lights, we had tungsten. And if you ever had the curiosity (or maybe the stupidity) to look at that element while it is glowing, you know that at first you can’t see anything. You are completely blinded by the light. But after a bit, you can see it. It’s just a simple, tiny thin and fragile element inside that glows with incredible heat and light when electricity is added. This becomes the metaphor for the transfigured Christian life. When the Holy Spirit is added to us, the light of His way, truth and life begin to shine through us. Baptism begins this power hook up and it is continued in Holy Communion.
In the same way that the Divine Nature of Christ our Lord is “veiled in flesh,” we also see that He is “veiled” in bread and wine. But in, with and under these earthly elements are indeed the radiant and glowing nature of our Divine Christ. He is not hidden by some kind of magic trickery but rather He is revealed by grace through faith. He continues His transforming work inside of us as we eat His body and drink His blood as He bids us in His word (JN 6:56).
This transformation and transfiguration that our Lord undergoes shows us exactly Who He truly is. He is indeed the Messiah, the one that Moses and Elijah point us to. He is the only one who can remove our sins from us and conquer the power of death. This victory He freely gives to all who believe His word of promise. These earthly “transfigurations” we experience in our Baptism and in Holy Communion come with heavenly realities that bless us now and in the world to come. When the disciples lifted up their eyes they saw no one - no one but Jesus. This becomes where our eyes are fixed now and all of our days. We focus on the one who came for us, lived for us, was transfigured for us, died for us and rose for us. For He is the one who has shined the light of His glory into our hearts and continues to change us by His grace.
“You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, showing Your disciples as much of Your glory as they could bear, so that when they see You crucified they will know that You suffer freely, and they will tell all the world that You are truly the radiance of the Father.”
Glory be to Jesus, the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. Amen!