Jesus is the Son of God, in the flesh. Jesus is the Son of God, dwelling among mankind to save the world. The past few weeks of Epiphany we have seen His glory revealed in the gifts from magi from the east, the calling of disciples, the teaching with authority, the healings, and the exorcisms of demons. All these things reveal to us, epiphany for us, that Jesus is the Son of God. Today in the Transfiguration, we reach the pinnacle of his glory revealing earthly ministry as He goes up a high mountain with Peter, James, and John.
Mountains are not peculiar places for God’s prophets. But mountains are certainly places where peculiar things have happened with God’s prophets. Moses for example went up on the familiar to him Mount Sinai while the children of God, freed from egyptian slavery waited at the base of the mountain. Moses went up and met with God. This time here, he didn’t receive a message from God in a burning bush, but rather the 10 Commandments from God. In Exodus 34, after coming down, we learn Moses had to veil his face to shield it from the gaze of the Israelites. Moses’ face was fading from the Godly glow it received in the sanctified sunburn on the mountain top. Peculiar indeed. Moses found himself in the presence of God on the top of Mount Sinai.
Elijah was familiar with mountain tops as well. Remember his peculiar mountain top experience where he threw down against the prophets of Baal? Remember, the “God contest” of olympic proportions? The people of God were limping between faithfully standing with the one true God and lamely chasing after the false gods of the false prophets of Baal. So Elijah on the top of Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 sets up a come to Jesus moment offering a contest. The sacrifices are laid on the altar and the false prophets are given the first attempt to have their god light a fire in answer to their prayers. No answer. Their false god was not just indisposed, he was non existent and the fire did not come. Then on the mountain top, Elijah raised the stakes and said saturate the sacrifice. Cover it with water, and water and more water. And with a simple prayer Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God.” And after his prayer, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and the water in the trench around the Altar. Peculiar indeed. Elijah led God’s people back to the one true God on top of Mount Carmel.
Well wouldn’t you know it these two mountain men make their appearance to the disciples on the top of the mountain with Jesus. But we are getting ahead of ourselves with that. So, Jesus miracle man, teacher, healer, demon defeater takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain alone. And there Jesus is transfigured. He isn’t changed, he is transfigured. It’s not like Jesus on the top of this high mountain becomes something he had never been before. No, when Jesus is transfigured before them, that which he has always been from eternity is now revealed. The Son of God in the flesh allows the veil of humanity to be slightly lifted to demonstrate that which was always there as he is fully God and fully man.
Right before the disciples’ eyes the purity and power and glory of God flow forth into their field of vision as his clothing becomes intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. No, this is not a Tide Ad, but now we are ready for Elijah with Moses to enter the scene and they do. They just appear. No chariot taxi from heaven, just a simple appearance and a simple conversation with Jesus. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the fulfillment of the promises prophesied from of old is now talking with the old prophets who were for all other intents and purposes long gone. Yet these who pointed to Christ’s coming now come and speak with the one they longed for.
Peter, never at a lack for words, is now terrified along with James and John and doesn’t know what to say. And not knowing what to say, he is not quite scared speechless and isn’t at a lack for words as he says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Terrified Peter offers to do what terrified sinners find themselves doing over and over again when faced with uncertainties. When we are afraid we want to make things. We make excuses. We make assumptions. We make plans. We make mistakes. We make messes. As sinners when faced with uncertainties, we stop listening and start making.
Think about it. What is the last thing that really scarred you? And what was your response? Now, I am not talking about the sudden unexpected event that causes your survival instincts of fight or flight to kick in but the sinful response of making for ourselves is not far off these instinctive reactions. But, what is it that really frightens you? Is it fear of finances? Not being able to make ends meet for yourself or for your family? Is it fear of failing health? Is the diagnosis going to be the death of me? Is the cancer going to take it all out of them? Is it fear of being hurt by others? Is it fear of being found out as a fraud? Fear that people will know you are not as good as you let on to be on the outside? Are you afraid of being a disappointment to those around you? Is it a fear of the loss of those closest to you through death? What really frightens you, and how do you react?
Well, chances are you are like Peter. Chances are you are a sinner like him, a sinner like me. When you are terrified, you really don’t know what to say. You may not even realize you don’t know what to say, because you are quick to make plans, you are quick to make excuses. You are quick to make assumptions. You are quick to make mistakes. Not knowing what to say you make your plans saying I can do this. This diagnosis is something I can manage one step at a time. I can get through this. I can make this work. Not knowing what to say you make excuses saying, well if the bills stopped coming for a month, if the rates stopped going up, if I was paid what I was worth, I would be able to make ends meet. Not knowing what to say, you make assumptions saying things like, God loves me too much to let me hurt so I can leave this person who will not change. Or maybe you make assumptions, saying this person who mistreats me will change if I am nicer to them. You make assumptions saying to yourself, if I keep up appearances enough, if I do enough good, the people I am worried about disappointing will not know how bad I am. You make many things, many mistakes, to avoid the reality of the terrifying things in this world.
We all want to make things. Peter wanted to make tents. He was terrified by the unknown. Terrified that His rabbi Jesus was talking about dying. He was terrified about the whispers of the plots against Jesus. He was terrified to leave the mountain and go back to the murky path they were on. He wanted to make a different path by making tents, so they could just stay with shiney Jesus, resurrected Moses, and reappeared Elijah on the mountain.
Well, here’s the truth, anything we make is never going to last. Anything we make will leave us worse off than the uncertain, terrifying thing we are afraid to face. Yet we are never left to face the uncertain terrifying things alone. It may be cloudy and unclear but the thing we need when terrified, the thing we need when we cannot see continues to be there for us. The voice is there for us.
Right after Peter said what he said about it being good to be there, about building three tents. Right after Peter said these things when he didn’t know what to say, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice comes out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” God the father in heaven breaks the silence of uncertainty and speaks the certain word the disciples needed to hear. God breaks the silence and speaks the certain word we need to hear, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”
Looking around, they no longer saw Moses and Elijah — Moses and Elijah were not gone, they were just returned to the pages of scripture that contains their Spirit inspired words. The disciples were left to see only the word made flesh and they were left with nothing they could make, but the only thing they needed — they were left with Jesus the beloved Son of God, the one they were to listen to.
When we listen to Jesus we find the only thing we need in the face of terrifying things. Peter wanted to avoid the death of his teacher. He wanted to avoid the persecution of the leaders of the day. He wanted to avoid the future that Jesus was laying out for them, but God spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And in hearing Christ, Peter was made new again and again and again.
So too in hearing Christ you are made new again and again and again. To borrow words from St. PAul in 2 Corinthians 3-4 We have this hope and this hope makes us bold. Not fearing or uncertain of the end, but with hearts made new in Christ we do not lose heart. We renounce the disgraceful — that is things we make apart from the grace of God, we renounce the disgraceful, the underhanded ways in which we would seek to make our own way away from sin. We are led by the Spirit to repent of our own making in order to be made new by the one who was made sin in our place. Jesus did not continue shining but returned to His humble appearance and humbled Himself even further to the depths of death and the grave in order to make things right between you and the Father. In Christ we have all things made for us. This is what Jesus says to you. Behold I am making all things new. He speaks it to you today through the words of Moses, when Moses says with his face veiled, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Behold I am making all things new, he speaks to you through the words of Elijah who says, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Christ continues to do what Christ came to do. He stops your making. He keeps you from making excuses. He keeps you from making assumptions. He keeps you from making plans. He keeps you from making mistakes. He keeps you from making messes. He keeps you from all these misguided makings by making them His own. He takes all of your makings as His own and makes all things new so that you are no longer left listening to your own disgraceful, underhanded words. He keeps you from proclaiming not yourself, but rather now makes you to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus alone makes you to be God’s servant. His light shines in your heart to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So we keep on listening and we keep on being made to be disciples. And now in Christ Jesus we are not left with nothing to make, but we are now filled with the voice of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and in Him we make disciples of all nations. We recall in our baptisms that we are made to be children of God we are made brand spanking new. Something we have never been before. It is different than Jesus’ transfiguration where what He always has been is simply revealed in his glorious appearance. No God’s remaking of us makes us to be something we have never been before, something we could never make ourselves to be on our own. He makes us to be like Christ. Transforming us again, and again, and again, day by day until that last day when the glory we hear in Christ is revealed for all the world to see.
May we listen as Jesus alone makes it so for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.