Who is this Baby born of Mary? The shepherds knew. Mary and Joseph knew. The Magi knew. Simeon knew. The Baptist knew. But they did not know just by looking at Him. There was nothing special about Him that would attract us to Him. He looked like just another normal Judean man. They knew Who He is not by sight, but by faith. The Word of God told them Who He is.
So it is that He had to reveal His glory. That’s what this Epiphany season teaches us. It teaches us to see His glory, to see it as something hidden from us yet revealed when He wills. The disciples only saw glimpses. We only hear His Word and receive His Sacraments, and we take those by faith too. So The Word declares His glory, and we believe.
So it was for the saints of old. Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds believed the word of the angel and the Scriptures they learned in their youths. The Magi believed Micah, and Simeon believed the Scriptures too, for he had been trained in them his entire life.
What did they believe? They believed Mary’s Child is God. Gabriel said He is the Son of The Most High. An angel told Joseph He is God Whose Name means “I AM SAVIOR, God with us.” An angel told the shepherds He is Christ The Lord, which meant to them He is both Messiah and Yahveh. Micah said the one born in Bethlehem is begotten of The Father from all eternity, and Simeon knew everything The Scriptures said, about Him being The Virgin’s Son Who would be punished for our transgressions. They saw a Child, but beheld their God.
Throughout His life He revealed His glory. The seers saw a 12-year old but heard God’s wisdom. John baptized Him but saw The Spirit descend and heard The Father’s voice. The caterer tasted water changed into wine. He stilled a storm and walked on water. He healed many, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, cast out demons, and raised the dead. They saw a man, but they recognized the glory of God residing within Him.
But Peter, James, and John saw it no more clearly than they did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Our Evangelical-Lutheran Church sees this Gospel as a fitting segue from Epiphany towards Lent. Historically it was read on the Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent; today’s Service was composed about 60 years before the Reformation to give God thanks for a victory in battle over the Turks and celebrated on August 6, the date this Gospel has long been read in the East. Now we hear it today as we begin to look ahead. He bids us to go down from His Mount of Transfiguration in order to follow Him up Mount Calvary.
But before we do, we must reflect on what happened here. He left 9 of His disciples at the base of the mountain. He took with Him only Peter, James, and John, just like He did when He raised Jairus’ daughter and when He entered into His Passion in Gethsemane. These 3 entered the Holy of Holies with Him. They saw what angels adore and saints worship. They saw God in the flesh. Peter had confessed Him to be The Christ, The Son of The Living God. Now He stood before them, in all His glory, white as the sun shining on clean newly-fallen snow.
He was not alone. To their surprise they saw Moses and Elijah. They saw the great leader of Israel who took them from Egypt to the borders of The Promised Land. They saw the great preacher clothed in camel’s hair who preached against Ahab and Jezebel and proved there is only one true God on Mount Carmel. Moses received The Law on Sinai, and Elijah fled there when Jezebel wanted to kill him. There they both talked with God, with Christ Himself. Now they spoke with Him again, this time about His Exodus, as Luke reports.
What was His Exodus? The Exodus of the Israelites was their escape from Egypt after the angel of death put to death all Egypt’s firstborn. They left town but Pharaoh caught up to them at the Red Sea. God opened the sea and they crossed on dry ground. Pharaoh pursued but his armies drowned in the sea. They were free. They received God’s Law at Sinai but then wandered in the desert 40 years before they crossed the River Jordan into Canaan to possess the promised land.
So what is Jesus’ Exodus? It’s the clearest revelation of His glory. It’s His Death and Resurrection. He went down into death’s deepest darkest crevices to bring us up out into the light of everlasting life with His Resurrection. He suffered for all the sins of the world. He paid the penalty all sin deserves. The eternal God gave up His life. He Who did not deserve to die died anyway. He took our place. He took our sin, our death, our hell, upon Himself. Then He lived to tell about it.
Therefore the Word of prophecy is fulfilled. This is what the prophets always desired. This is what they foretold as they wrote. They saw, though with clouded vision, God hanging on a tree for the sins of the world. They saw Him reigning over sin and death, defeating them through His Passion. They saw His glory, saw that He is strong to save, so strong so that not only He is in glory, but we too shall be in glory. For what the Apostles saw, is that not a picture of what we shall be when He raises us from the dead?
Therefore Lutherans educate and we fight for life. Today is both Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and the beginning of National Lutheran Schools Week. When Pastor Stechholz started a preschool, I’m sure he didn’t realize a school Andrew attended would someday be our school building, or that as bishop he would preside at the first graduation service of the school’s high school. His goal was to tell the children of Oakmont about Christ. But the telling of Christ is never alone. A school trains children for life. They learn not just about Christ, but about how He desires them to live in this world. They learn how to reflect Him in everything they do, to reflect His glory, to reflect and tell His Death and Resurrection and bring His mercy into the world.
That’s why we fight for life. We believe God died for His own creation. He died to give us life. But before He did that He went through every stage of life. He went to school and grew up, but first He was a baby in a womb, from the moment the power of The Most High overshadowed His Mother when His Holy Spirit came to her. Since He lived from His Conception to His Death, since He created life, we preach to the world that He is The Author and Finisher of it. He alone decides when it should end let alone begin. We proclaim, and as we do we proclaim His forgiveness and mercy, forgiveness and mercy needed by so many throughout the world.
Christ Jesus is The Father’s Only-begotten Son. He is well-pleased with Him because He died and rose for you. Therefore listen to Him. He tells you how to live. He tells you what He has done for you. He knows what is good for you, both when you have no idea and when you think you know better. He speaks to you through The Sacred Scriptures. These are the writings He has given you through Apostles and Prophets who were guided by The Holy Spirit. Listen to Him. Listen to them.