First Mennonite Church
December 31, 2017
Reflecting an Ever-increasing Glory
Text: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Today is the last day of 2017. The cycle of holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays for this year is over, except if your birthday happens to be today. The year brought us moments and occasions of joy and we rejoiced in them. Some celebrated the birth of their child or grandchild. We saw our children move up a grade higher in school. You had special guests who visited you, or you yourself visited special friends or relatives you had not seen for a long time.
By God’s grace we are also standing today despite the challenges, health issues, and losses we faced. As for me, I started this year with the dreadful news of my sister Arsi’s cancer coming back with fury. I also give thanks to God for allowing me to spend some time taking care of her and sharing moments with her that will remain engraved in my heart. She passed away the day I was coming back home on January 26. My family and I also rejoiced in the blessing of seeing our house finished and then of moving into it. I have also read about the joy and challenges some of you wrote and shared in your end-of-the-year newsletters.
Life is like a bag of mixed up and down experiences. Fortunately, there are more ups than downs in the bag. Yet, when we look at our lives in retrospect, we end up feeling grateful at how God took us by the hand and led us through those difficult moments. We are also surprised at how God’s providence makes life so resilient that despite the aches and pains and other illness we endured, we are still here kicking and laughing. We are glad and grateful to see the end of the year.
One undeniable effect of seeing the end of the year is that we are getting a little older. The passing of time for our children makes them happy and excited. They rejoice at seeing themselves growing up and getting stronger, and becoming more independent. But the passing of time for many of us pushes us a little farther away from our glory days, at least when speaking about our physical lives. Yet, in Paul’s concluding statement in our passage for today, we find the possibility of an ever increasing glory that the passing of time can allow us to achieve. Paul says the hope of an increasing glory should make us bold and we can walk in confidence that Christ’s glorious image can be engraved in our lives. Taking from Paul’s words, we should be able to reflect Christ’s image brighter than we did at the beginning of this year.
Paul draws this conclusion by comparing what happened to Moses when he went up the mountain to meet with God to receive the Commandments. Paul refers to the receipt of the Commandments as the first covenant. In Exodus 33 Moses goes to God and expresses his discouragement. He is giving up on his task of leading the people because of their rebelliousness. In verse 18, Moses pleads with Yahweh, saying, “Now, show me your glory.” And the Lord says to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence . . . . But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20). The Old Testament reading this morning reveals what happed to
Moses after that encounter with God. God displays before Moses God’s goodness and holiness. Later in verse 22, God refers to his goodness and holiness as his glory revealed to Moses. And Moses’ face begins to glow, but he does not know it. Aaron, the Israelite leaders and the people see Moses’ shining face and are terribly afraid to look at it; thus they asked Moses to cover his face with a veil.
It was an impressive thing that only one quick glance at God’s glory made Moses’ face to shine, although temporarily. Paul interprets that over time the glow in Moses’ face disappeared and that his keeping the veil on his face was only to prevent the Israelite people from seeing that God’s reflected glory in his face had faded away. Paul argues that if the Commandments of God came with a fading glory, the new covenant, which came through Jesus Christ, will have much more lasting glory. In 2Corinthians 4, Paul says that God’s glory [is] displayed in the face of Christ (4:6). Therefore, Paul says, when we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Paul abides true to God’s claim that no one can see his face and live. But Paul understands that Christ is the place/person where we can contemplate the glory of God. Therefore, all of those who have entered into God’s new covenant in his Son Jesus Christ, can see his glory in the face of Christ. And all who gaze upon the glorious face of Jesus, will be transformed into his image with an ever-increasing glory as well.
You and I have entered into God’s new covenant by believing in his Son as Lord and Savior. Thus, when we spend time looking at the glorious face of the Lord, which we should do not only intermittently, but constantly, our lives should experience change and transformation. Change is not always easy. We all resist change. Change can be painful. But, through our constant familiarization with the teachings of Jesus, through our deliberate attempts at emulating his way of life, our lives will not only begin to change, but will be transformed into his likeness. Paul says this transformation will bring us closer to the image of Christ. The word “image” comes from the Greek “icon.”
In the world of computers we speak of icons. Icons in the computer are little images which represent a feature or function the computer performs. Paul says that by contemplating the glorious face of Jesus we are transformed into becoming his icon—image. Taking from the world of computers, when someone clicks on me/you, the image of Christ should appear in our lives. When we do or say something, the spirit, character or way of life of Christ should come out. Speaking of clicking, often when people are upset they say, “Please do not push me on the wrong buttons, because . . . .” That means the icon of Christ is not quite there yet.
This year we had 53 Sundays. For 53 Sundays, including today, we have gathered to contemplate the glory of Christ in this fellowship. So here is the question: have you changed somehow during this year? In your habits? In your treatment of others? Are you more patient than you were on January 1, 2017? Are you more loving and understanding to those closest to you? When you are pressed on the wrong button, what image comes out? Is it Christ-like patience, sacrificial love, or humility? Is the glory of the Lord reflected in your life much more clearly than it did at the beginning of this year?
Please do not be discouraged if at times what comes out from you is not a Christ-like character. Paul himself admitted he had not fully achieved the goal of being like Christ, but that he was still working at it (Philippians 3:10-14). We are still God’s work in progress. For despite our best attempts to see Christ in the fullness of his glory, we can only see like in a mirror, says Paul. But one day when we get to see him face to face, then we’ll be able to glow in the beauty of his glory.
Nonetheless, let us remember that God’s glory is his presence, goodness and holiness, which we are called to embody. When you show compassion, by giving up your place in the grocery store line to a mother whose baby is crying, God’s glory is reflected in you. When you send a card to a sick friend, the icon of Christ comes to the fore in your life. When instead of rolling back your eyes at the mistake of another, you respond understandingly, Christ-like patience is revealed. When you bring food items for Loaves and Fishes, Christ-like compassion shines. Every act of kindness, generosity, or of forgiveness that you show reveals that you have been contemplating the face of the glorious Lord.
We should also be mindful that God’s glory is being displayed and reflected in the lives of others. This should remind us of the importance of being sensitive to places and ways in which God might want to reflect his glory to us. I want to tell you that I have seen the glory of the Lord reflected in your lives. I am witness that the image of Christ continues to become clearly visible in your lives. Your words of kindness and appreciation for me and my family, your acts of kindness and generosity towards us, your affirmation of my ministry, and in many other ways the icon of Christ appears in the screen of your lives. Thank you!
Here we are once again at the threshold of a new year. God is giving us the opportunity not only to gaze into his glory but also to shine it brighter this New Year. I therefore want to invite each of you, my dear sisters and brothers, to continue gazing into the glorious face of Jesus, our Lord. Let us avail ourselves to be transformed.
We also have a great challenge before us. The darkness in the world continues to get even darker. Self-absorption, self-promotion, and self-glorification continue to reflect the darkness of the human heart. Let us make it our prayer this New Year to shine an ever-increasing glory to the honor and praise of Christ our Lord. Amen!