January 6, 2013

Sermon, Epiphany Sunday

Light in the Face of Christ
Psalm 46, Isaiah 60:1-9, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
January 6, 2013

God is mentioned many times in 2 Corinthians 4. Verse 2 says, "handling the word of God." "In the sight of God."  Verse 4; "glorious gospel of Christ... image of God."  Verse 5; "Christ Jesus the Lord... for Jesus' sake."  Verse 6; "God, who commanded the light to shine... the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

I think no person can read this passage without noticing that it makes reference to two Divine Persons.  The first it calls God, by which is meant the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of Deborah, Esther, and Ruth.  This is the God who said to Moses, "I Am that I Am."  This is the great God who delivered Israel from bondage and called the children of Abraham to be His unique people upon earth.  We know Him as God the Father, and we confess our belief in Him daily in the Apostle's Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."  This is the One we address when, praying as Christ taught us, "Our Father who art in Heaven."  This Father God is a definite, identifiable Person.  He is God.

The second Person is equally obvious in this passage.  He is mentioned four times in six verses, where He is called Christ, Christ Jesus the Lord, Jesus, and Jesus Christ.  This is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, born in Bethlehem, and laid in a manger.  This is the One who later healed the sick and gave sight to the blind.  This is the One who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day He arose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead.  In all of this, Christ is spoken of as an individual Person with His own identity.  So we look into this passage and we see the Person of God and the Person of Christ, two Persons.

The unique, and very mysterious thing we find in these verses is that this Jesus is spoken of as God also. He is the countenance of God made visible for us to see.  Thus, verse 4 calls Him "Christ who is the image of God, " and verse 6 tells us we see the "glory of God in the face of Jesus.

This same Jesus is also called "Christ Jesus the Lord" (5).  When the King James Version was translated in 1611, "lord" was the title of people of power and property. There was, Lord of the manor, and Lord of the Admiralty, and almost every member of the upper class called himself lord of something.  Kings often called themselves lords.  One of the titles claimed by the Roman Emperors was "king of kings, and lord of lords" signifying that other kings and lords owed their aligience, titles, and lives to Caesar.

But God is Lord in a way no mere human could ever be.  The words He spoke to Israel in the very first of the Ten Commandments are repeated many times throughout the Old Testament,  "I am the Lord thy God."  There is none other.  He is the Creator and owner.  He is the Master and Lord.  He is God.

To call Jesus Christ, "Lord" is to equate Him with the Father.  It is to call Him God.  This is precisely the point of the words of 1 Corinthians 4:5; "Christ Jesus the Lord."  Christ is God.

Christ claimed to be the very same God who created the universe, called Abraham to found a new people, and saved Israel from her Egyptian slavery.  But, He also claims to be different from the Father, and the real difficulty we have with this is that He claims to be the same God, yet also a unique person, at the same time.  He claims to exist with the Father and the Holy Spirit in such a way that the Three are one God.  Three Persons, yet one Person.  Or, more correctly, three Persons, one God.

There is no way for us to express this in a way that our finite minds can understand.  St. Patrick attempted it with the shamrock, with its three leaflets making one leaf.  Others have used the triangle, having three sides, yet being one form.  Still others have used three inter-connecting circles or ovals, such as the quitectra. Shamrocks and triangles and circles are helpful as illustrations and symbols, yet cannot fully convey the truth of the Holy Trinity to us.  In the end we must admit that God is greater than we can now understand.  He is so great He exists as Three Persons in One Person.  Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is God.  He is also Man, but that is another sermon.  

Now we come to the real point of today's sermon.  It is found in 1 Corinthians 6:6, which tells us God commanded the Light to shine.   The Light is the glory of God made visible to enable us to know and love God.  We are to look upon the Light and see God.  We are to look upon the Light and see His love for us, His self-sacrificing love, His cross bearing love, His forgiving love, as well as His perfect goodness and purity.  The Light reveals His truth, His purity, His absolute moral perfection that cannot even be tempted by evil.  Evil has no allure to Him.  He is pure love and goodness.  The Light is Christ.

The Christ enables us to see the pitfalls and the dangers of the world. We see the dangers of sin.  We see that it ruins lives as surely as it makes us worthy of God's wrath.   In seeing them, we are warned to negotiate around them safely.  Like a lighthouse, Christ reveals dangers in the waters, so the ships can go safely around them.

Just as the Lighthouse warns ships away from rocks and shallows, it also leads them safely to the harbour.  In a similar way, the Light of Christ leads us to God.  Thus, Psalm 43:3 prays, "O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling."  The Light, the glory of God in the face of Christ, shines to illuminate to way to Heaven.  Its Beams send out a continuous message: here is life.  Here is hope.  Here is the way to God. Come to the Light, He will get you home.

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