There is a bit of mountain climbing in our text for this Transfiguration Sunday. It prompts the question: was the point of Jesus transformed on the mountain that the disciples were to “go up”…or that God had “come down”?
You and I suffer from a glory problem. Now I know that momentary glory is what makes the world go ‘round. Gold medals and salaries and severance packages and tenured positions are, in no small measure, based on the glory of the moment. Even a healthy self-image, formed in the hearts of children by parents and teachers who give honest praise…praise when praise is truly warranted…flows out of it. But we suffer from a glory…PROBLEM. The prospect of momentary glory is so attractive we may be tempted to grab more of it for ourselves by not caring if doing so makes others look worse. We may be tempted to rejoice at the misfortune of another person if we believe that person "had it coming." Or maybe what is at the root of our glory problem is that we're stuck and momentary glory seems impossibly beyond our grasp. We live envying what others have instead of living in gratitude for what we already have. We suffer from a glory problem. We’re trying to climb mountains…but we’re doing it to live in the glory of the moment, rather than to live out the glory that is lasting and raises us all up.
One of the most beloved classic Christian hymns is “Beautiful Savior." In Lutheran circles, the popularity of the hymn is probably due at least in part to F. Melius Christiansen, director of the St. Olaf College Choir, in the early 20th century. Every concert performed by his choir ended with the singing of Beautiful Savior. Even today their annual Christmas concert ends with the lighting of candles and the singing of this hymn while hundreds of tiny lights blink into the darkness, a ritual that I would later learned we were imitating at my own Lutheran grade school in Richmond, Virginia! I don’t know director Christiansen’s original reason for ending his choral concerts with this hymn, but I’d like to think that the words of the last stanza have something to do with it: “Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore…be Thine!” Perhaps these words are not intended only for God to hear, though they certainly are that. They are also for the audience. Praise and acclaim are not for us, the director seems to say. If you enjoyed our work, great! But please know that anything good about it originates with our Creator. Anything we did here today that blessed you follows because of the undeserved love of God in Christ, that blessed us. We worked hard and did our best. But the only glory that really matters is God’s.
Let’s live out this week with that refrain on our lips. Giving thanks today for the Beautiful Savior who came down from the mountain into the valleys of life with us, we glorify GOD'S name.