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Psalm 27
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.  Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.  One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.  For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.  And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.  Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!  You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek."  Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!   For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.   Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.   Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.   I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!   Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (ESV)
Beauty of Holiness
Thursday of Pentecost 17
24 September 2015
Post-moderns have argued that there is no difference between the beautiful and the ugly. Present fashion fads confirm this judgment; just consider the ubiquitous piercings and tattoos. But who, given the choice between looking at a beautiful sunset and looking into a cesspool, will say that he would prefer to look into a cesspool? No one. Why is that? No one would argue that they are equally beautiful, even if they might be hard pressed to state precisely why.
If beauty is an attribute of God, we begin to see why humans, who are created in His image might be attracted to that which is more beautiful and not attracted to that which is less beautiful. The Psalmist connects the worship experience with the experience of the beauty of God: "One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple" (Ps 27:4). The Hebrew word which is translated "beauty" here also means pleasantness and the favor of God, and thus is not far from the meaning of grace. It's in the same "semantic domain." Perhaps grace could be thought of as God's beauty in action.
When we are thinking of the beauty of God we are not thinking of mere appearance. We are not talking about skin-deep beauty. With God we are talking about beauty pure and simple; the beauty of holiness, beauty in its very essence. See how we grope when we try to speak of God's attributes! We have no experience of such things unalloyed by our creatureliness and sin. So our groping for God through the attraction of the things of beauty is either only a faint hint of God's existence and character or merely a byway in which our speculation traps us and makes us subject to the creation rather than children of the Creator. These are the elemental things of the world, created for our blessedness, signs of God, but not a sure revelation of the divine character.
The aesthete worships beauty; its objects are the things of this world, many of them visible. But what makes the thing seen superior to the instruments of the body and mind that perceive such things? How is a beautiful sunset a clearer intimation of God's character than the eye that sees it? The eye was created by God to perceive beauty and thus has priority over the things of beauty themselves, because humans are the foremost creatures of God. Humans can partake of the beauty of holiness because they are gifted with it by the One who is Himself beauty and holiness itself.
The perfect beauty of holiness comes to us in the person of God's Son. Even though "his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind" (Is 52:14), He was the most beautiful because His beauty was placed at the service of that same mankind that thought Him marred and were the cause of it. His cross is the key that unlocks all the beauty in the world and tells us that it belongs to God. Mere prettiness is silenced by the beauty of the man born of a peasant mother, who shoulders the world's sin, offers his face to the mockers, his back to the smiters, and is nailed to the ugliest sign of beauty: the cross of Christ. The hymn confronts us with it: "Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness/ My beauty are, my glorious dress." Such gory beauty! It becomes us well unto salvation. Here is the beauty of holiness.


Gregory of Nazianzus

"As long as our mind looks with its inherent weakness at things above its power, it fails to transcend corporeal things, and to consort with the One who is incorporeal, stripped of the clothing of all corporeal ideas. For every rational nature longs for God and for the First Cause, but is unable to grasp Him. Faint therefore with the desire, and as it were restive and impatient because of the inability, it tries a second course, either to look at visible things, and out of some of them to make a god. This is a poor way. For in what respect and to what extent can that which is seen be higher and more godlike than that which sees, or that which sees worship what is seen? Or how could the mind attain to that which is above sight through the beauty and order of visible things; and yet not suffer the loss of God through the magnificence of visible things.
"For this reason, some have made a god of the sun, others of the moon, others of the host of stars, others of heaven itself with all its hosts, to which they have attributed the guiding of the universe, according to the quality or extent of their movement. Others again of the earthly elements: earth, air, water, fire, because of their useful nature, since without them human life cannot possibly exist. Others again have worshiped any chance visible objects, setting up the most beautiful of what they saw as their gods." 

Gregory Nazianzus, Second Theological Oration, 13-14
God of beauty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, be with Your servants who make art and music for Your people that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of the beauty that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Dodie DeYoung, that the Lord Jesus would continue to be with her in her waning days and that those who serve her needs would be strengthened and granted confidence in God's good care
For Rebecca Junker, that doctors and nurses would bring the right therapies to cure her of lymphoma
For those who are seeking God, that the Lord Jesus would find them
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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