The Glory of God in the face of Christ

The Feast of the Transfiguration, Year A, 2017 – Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light.

This is a day that brings us close to the glory of God; to the power and majesty and great burning life that stands at the beginning and end of faith and of all things. After 6 days—on the seventh day—Jesus goes up the mountain and shines with the light that was the Word of God to the world in the beginning of creation.
And God said, “Let there be light.”

Today we see the glory of God, the God who summoned Moses to the mountain—and the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain; the God of the prophet Ezekiel. And I looked, and behold, a stormy wind out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire infolding itself, and a brightness round about it.

We see the glory of God today, and it is known in the face of Jesus the Christ.

All of Epiphany, all of Christmas, every candle on the Advent wreath; every candle that lit this church on Christmas Eve; every star that lit that night and the great Paschal candle that burns at the baptismal font: all the light that throughout Advent and Christmas and Epiphany announces the coming of the Lord points toward the face of Jesus on this day.

And there, here in his face, this light finds its meaning.

Here in his face. It is a remarkable thing. It is so close, suddenly, the light that is God’s glory rising over the world. It is as close as a child. For this man who stands now on the mountaintop transfigured is the one who was born a child in Bethlehem at Christmas—not so very long ago. He was born a child like any one of us. He was born a child like young Thomas, whom we bring to Christ today. We see the glory of God in the face of the child born on Christmas day.

It is just right that Thomas should be baptized today, when we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, because Thomas was a Christmas baby. He came to church for the very first time on Christmas Day; we held him in our arms on the day Christ is born. There he was, tiny, lovely, vulnerable, as a human being is; looking just like Jesus must have looked on his first Christmas Day.

This is who God is in Jesus Christ: this wee one, this child, born as one of us, for love of us.

For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.

In this baby, the great love of God and our hope. For it is in his humanness that the light of God comes close. It is in the humanity/flesh of Jesus/body of Christ that the light that shone over the world in the beginning of creation shines again—so close now, even in our hearts. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God, and all things came into being through him… In him was life, and the life was the light of the people. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In the dark of that first Christmas night, the light shines in the face of the newborn babe. In the dark places of the world, the light shines now in the face of Jesus.

There is a reason that we celebrate Christmas at the dark time of the year. Because it is in and for the darkness that Jesus comes. This thing called life is beautiful, and it is also terrible.

There is a wonderful book by Marilynne Robinson called Lila. In it there is a girl-woman Lila who knows more than enough about life.

Existence can be fierce, she did know that. A storm can blow up out of a quiet day, wind that takes your life out of your hands, your soul out of your body.

Existence can be fierce, and the child we hold in our arms grows up and goes out of our arms to a world that is darkness as well as light.

Poor was nothing, tired and hungry were nothing. But people only trying to get by, and no respect for them at all, even the wind soiling them. No matter how proud and hard they were, the wind making their faces run with tears. That was existence, and why didn’t it roar and wrench itself apart like the storm it must be, if so much of existence is all that bitterness and fear?

We are lovely, we who are human, and we are vulnerable, because the world is a place that can wound. We are beautiful and we are terrible, because we are people who can do the wounding.

Jesus comes into our lives, into this human life, at Christmas, in the dark time of the year. Into the wildness of existence Jesus comes—a baby, in all a baby’s vulnerability. He walks with us in the places we find ourselves, even outside of the garden, driven by a fiery and flailing sword, the wind making our faces run with tears. It is sometimes hard to see the light of God in the place outside the garden’s peace, and the voice of God feels like fear.

An orphan is what she was, and she knew it then and she thought the preacher must somehow know it too and be ready with the frightening word that would take her life away from her if only he chose to say it. “And there was a voice above the firmament that was over their heads; when they stood they let down their wings.” She didn’t want to know what the verse meant, what the creatures were. She knew there were words so terrible you heard them with your whole body. Guilty. And there were voices to say them.

An orphan is what she was; the voice above the firmament speaks our distance from God. Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, we pray at every Evening Prayer.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face did shine like the sun.

In his face, our light. For the glory of God, the love of God, the life and salvation of God walks now in the times and places of darkness with us. This moment of Jesus’ transfiguration is the moment of our hope.

His face, his human face, is God’s promise to us: I am with you in the place of your darkness. So you shall be with me in God’s light.

This is the hope we claim in this baptism today: we join this child to the life of Christ, as Christ has joined his life to ours. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil—even as the waters go over my head. Why? For thou art with me. In the body and blood of Jesus the Christ, thou art with me, and I am yours.

Thomas was born at Christmas, a child like the child who was the Christ.
On this day Thomas is born again, his life, his precious life wrapped round with the life of Christ, carried in Christ’s arms through the waters that go over our heads…out, into Christ’s life, into a life lit by the light that is Christ’s.

The light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ on this day—the light of the knowledge of the glory of God—this light is the light of hope. For it means that our human faces may now shine, too. He in our flesh; we in his grace, transfigured. We may become, in the days of our lives, signs like Christ, pointers in the fierceness of existence to a sure and certain hope. This is what we mean when we give Thomas a candle at the end of his baptism. Receive the light of Christ. Let Christ transform your life. Let Christ shine from your moments and your days; love him, and love his Word, and choose Christ before and beyond and in everything that you do. It is our calling, and God’s great work in us, known in the face of Jesus Christ today: let your light, this light of Christ, so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Catherine Sider Hamilton at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the Feast of the Transfiguration, February 26th, 2017.
Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at