The Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, St. Philip’s Church, Donelson, February 19, 2023

“You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19).

Depending on the time of year, the planet Venus is visible as a bright object in the sky at dusk, as night begins to fall; sometimes in the early morning, just before the dawn. Hence the term, the “morning star.” Roughly the size of earth, and one of the closest planets, Venus is bright enough to cast a visible shadow on the earth. The appearance of Venus, tracing its own course in the heavens, is predictable enough to travelers that they can set a course based on their observation of the planet: “This way must be east, because I see the morning star!”

In our reading from the Second Letter to Peter, the apostolic author writes about the coming of Jesus Christ, and the manifestation of his glory. For St. Peter, the vision of the transfigured Christ, revealed to Peter, James, and John on the mountain, reflects the glory and majesty of God. As our Gospel tells it, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matt. 17:2). Like the star at Bethlehem, the light that shines at the Transfiguration is a sign of salvation that is only now beginning to come into the world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Again, as our Gospel puts it, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5).

In our reading from Peter, we’re told that Jesus’ coming was foretold by the prophets. The prophetic word was “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19), as it says in the reading. With the sin of Adam and Eve, deep darkness descended on all creation. Of course, the sun continued to come up; day followed day and life went on. But a moral darkness came over the world, in which it was no longer possible to see clearly or to act faithfully. As St. Paul says somewhere, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19). Death came into the world as a result of human disobedience, and confusion of heart and mind. But now, with the prophets, the light of hope is burning.

To come back again to the reading from Peter, the coming of Jesus Christ, foretold by prophets, is like the rising of the morning star with the dawn of the new day. In Revelation, Jesus calls himself, “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16). Like the planet that is so bright it can cast a shadow, Jesus’ birth heralds a new day. The morning star illumines the darkness, shining a light and revealing the truth. It also orients us to the way forward, giving us the direction we need. By taking a fix on Jesus, we can navigate and chart a course. Now, in the words of Peter, the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

The hope kindled by the prophets now shines forth in a new way in Jesus Christ. But the full light has not yet come; the day is only now breaking. We still live in hope for that day when God shall be all in all, when all things shall be subject to him (1 Cor. 15:28), as St. Paul says in First Corinthians. That day is not yet. In the shadow cast by the Morning Star, we see war and inhumanity, racial hate and partisan divisions of all sorts, poverty, famine, and disaster that have run rampant. Still, the star has risen in the east, and the day is beginning to break.

The light we see on the mountain of Transfiguration brings transformation, for the disciples and for us. As we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism, and welcome our fellow parishioners as confirmed members of the church, we see new life breaking out around us, not only at St. Philip’s Church but throughout the world. We witness the spread of the light, in the transformed lives of others and in our own lives as well. In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks of his resurrection, his triumph over sin and death. In the liturgy we celebrate this morning, we see that new life that Jesus shares with us, through his death and resurrection.

Lent lies ahead, but Easter will come. The light is even now shining in the darkness. The Morning Star has risen and will never set. The light that shines at the Transfiguration will continue to increase until we stand in the full light of day. Come, Lord Jesus! Come Holy Spirit, and fill our hearts with the fire of your love!

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee