Rev Frank’s Mar 1, 2014 sermon
WHEN LIGHT BREAKS THROUGH
March 1, 2014
Westmount Park United Church
Many years ago Jane and I went hiking with some friends on a trail that went high up in the mountains near Jasper, Alberta. It was a three day hike and all the first day was cloudy and cool. The second day we awoke to more grayness but as we continued to climb higher the clouds began to lift until suddenly the sun broke through just as we reached the very summit of our journey. Because the clouds lifted at just the right moment we were able to drink in the magnificent splendour of range upon range of snow clad mountains stretched out before us as we trudged along the top of the trail in glorious sunshine. By late afternoon the clouds rolled in again and the next day we hiked out in dense fog, feeling grateful that the best part of the trail had been bathed in bright sunlight. We still remember that particular hike with much fondness, and what stands out in our memories, what made the three days of hiking all worthwhile, was those golden moments high on the top of the mountain ridge, when bright sunlight burst upon us.
I love going overnight hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Even though the weather can often be poor and much of it is tedious climbing up steep trails with heavy packs, I still keep coming back for more, because there are moments when you have hiked up above the tree line and the sun breaks through making the snowy mountain peaks brilliant in the sunlight, and the sky is a deep deep blue, and the valleys stretched out below are rich and green, and the water cascading down from the craggy peaks above sparkles like diamonds. I suppose you could say that I go hiking in the mountains because there are moments that make it all worthwhile. I don’t really enjoy having a thirty five pound pack on my back for hours on end, I don’t really enjoy wading through ice cold streams, I don’t really enjoy grey rainy days, but I would rather be hiking in the Rocky Mountains than doing anything else in the whole world because there are moments high up on the mountains, when light breaks through, that make it all worthwhile, moments which leave me utterly convinced that this is what vacations are all about.
The gospel reading this morning describes an event in the life of Jesus’ disciples, up on a mountain, when light broke through into their lives in such a way that they realized what life itself is all about. What happened to those disciples was what Paul describes in our epistle reading from Second Corinthians. Light shone into their lives, not just physical light but the light of God shining in their hearts, the light of God shining in the face of Christ. The story of the Transfiguration describes a moment of realization in the disciples’ lives when the light dawned on them that Jesus was from God, that his words should be heeded and lived by, that their lives could only have meaning and purpose in relation to Jesus’ life and Jesus’ ministry.
In the gospel narrative the Transfiguration is a rather peculiar intrusion into the story of Jesus’ life, and yet this bizarre and unusual event in the disciples’ lives describes the sort of thing that happens to all sorts of people when they come to critical moments in their lives and all of a sudden the light dawns. It is a vivid and surrealistic description of the sort of special moments in our spiritual pilgrimage when we suddenly get an insight, a clarity, an inspiration, moments that set everything into perspective and give us fresh purpose and renewed energy.
The Bible is full of such moments of revelation, like the unexpected interruption that happened in Moses’ life. He had left the troubles of Egypt behind and was settling into a quiet life of working as a herdsman for his father-in-law when suddenly his life took a dramatic turn because the light of God broke upon him in the vision he had of a bush that was burning yet not consumed by the fire. The light of God burst in upon Isaiah when he had a vision in the temple. The Book of Acts describes the light dawning on St. Paul in a dramatic vision he had of the risen Christ, when on the road to Damascus he came to the realization that instead of persecuting the followers of Jesus he should become a Christian himself. The Bible stories of dramatic moments, when the light of God’s presence dawns on people, may seem foreign to our own experience, and yet we also can experience moments of revelation in our lives when the light dawns just as forcefully and crucially as it did for people like Moses and Isaiah and those very first disciples of Jesus, who in a vivid and dramatic way glimpsed the true significance of their leader.
There are moments when the light breaks through, when we get fresh clarity and insight, when all of a sudden things are put into their proper perspective. Very often it is crisis times, even tragic moments, that can bring with them the brilliant clarity of a revelation from God. There can be moments in a person’s life that hit home, when one is moved to say, “Oh my God, what am I doing?” There come moments of crisis in our lives, moments of discovery, moments of revelation, of light breaking through, and when that light of God breaks through life assumes new meaning and purpose, or we are lifted from despair, or we hear God’s judgement on our false goals and shallow motives.
The story of the Transfiguration describes a breaking through of revelation into the disciples lives. They had been living and travelling and talking with Jesus for some time, but then all of a sudden the light dawned. They came to a deep and startling insight about this man Jesus. Paul says that the light of God has shone into our lives “in the face of Christ”, not in the teachings of Jesus, not in the study of Christology, but in the face of Jesus, in the person of Jesus. The revelations by which God’s light breaks into our lives often come through encounters with one another at a personal level. We see Christ’s face in the faces of others. We see him in the faces of our parents, in the faces of our children, in the faces of our mentors, in the faces of the poor and needy, in the faces of our friends and neighbours. When the light of God bursts into our lives in the face of Jesus Christ it will likely be when we see the face of Jesus shining through the faces of others. So if we want to have the light of God shine into our hearts in the face of Jesus we will need to get in touch with the feelings and concerns of others through whom the light of God in Jesus shines.
When the light of God breaks upon us, through a crisis moment in our lives, through a deeply felt personal encounter with another person, through whatever revelation or discovery that comes over us, then we are on the top of a mountain in our spiritual pilgrimage. But moments when light breaks through do not last for ever. Eventually the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah faded and the disciples came down from the mountain. We do not live on the mountain tops, in the perpetual brightness of a revelation of God’s presence. But it is because the light sometimes breaks through that we are sustained at all other times by the light which continues to glow within us, the light of God shining in our hearts in the face of Jesus Christ.