In the past decade, there has a been a superabundance of television makeover shows—Extreme Makeover, Queer Eye, What Not to Wear. With new hairstyles, clothes, and make-up, somebody goes from plain to pretty or from frumpy to fabulous. They look like they’re getting ready for Valentine’s Day. The before and after photos can reveal quite a metamorphosis—a major transformation.
I remember seeing advertisements for Maybelline cosmetics. They show a woman with a glowing countenance, beautiful, shining skin, and long flowing tresses. “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”
In the Gospel for Transfiguration Sunday, the disciples are having a mountaintop experience. They’ve gone with Jesus up on a mountain to pray. While Jesus is praying, he starts to look different. The appearance of his clothes changed, and he was dazzling white.
“Maybe he’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Maybe it’s Moses!
Maybe it’s Elijah!
Maybe it’s the Messiah!”
Jesus appears here on the mountain with Moses and Elijah—two figures from the Old Testament. Both help foreshadow what is to come. Both had had mountaintop experiences. Moses got the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Elijah had an amazing encounter, complete with thunder and fire, against the prophets of Ba’al.
It can be said that this Transfiguration story is a story of validation and confirmation. It says yes to who Jesus is. He had been teaching and healing, but this only verifies and validates his identity. Jesus is more than a teacher. He’s more than a nice guy. He’s more than a prophet. He’s the son of God. This is validated at the Transfiguration.
This is a text of validation. It says “yes” to who Jesus is. By connecting Jesus with Moses and Elijah, it puts him in their tradition. It could be said that Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. Jesus is fulfilling both. But this Transfiguration story also validates Moses and Elijah. It connects them, and the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, with Jesus. As Christian people, we don’t forget the past, but we remember. We remember all of God’s saving deeds. We remember the Exodus. We remember the people being led out of slavery. We remember the prophets speaking truth to power. We remember.
The actual Greek word for transfiguration is metaimorphothai, which only appears in Matthew and Mark, but not in Luke’s version of the story. But this is where we get our English word metamorphosis. That’s like the transition that a caterpillar makes in becoming a butterfly. It’s more than a makeover. It’s a transformation.
Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Epiphany season. We’ve had weeks of remembering signs of God’s power. The Magi see a star. Jesus turns water into wine. He gets baptized in the Jordan. He teaches in the synagogue. We see his glory on the mountain. On Transfiguration, we see Jesus for who he is—the God’s Son. It’s not Maybelline. It’s not Moses. It’s not even Elijah. It’s Jesus. The Transfiguration helps foreshadow Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. We get but a foretaste of the transformation from death to new life.
When we baptize, we often give out a candle, inviting the baptized person to let their light shine. As we serve Jesus, as we live our lives shaped by this transfiguration—metamorphosis—transformation, let us shine. When people see you sharing the good news, let your light shine. Reflect God’s dazzling grace. Let’s hope that people don’t think, “Maybe it’s Maybelline.”
But let’s pray that they might say, “This is the light of Christ reflected in you.”
(Adapted from a sermon preached in 2010).