Seeing For Miles isn't Far Enough
The Who sang "I can see for miles," and through modern media you can do that. You can see all the way to Copenhagen, Afghanistan, and Mars, but even if you see this far, still "you ain't seen nothing yet."
Right before Christmas the fitting question to ask is "Do you see what I see?" In the song that Mary sings, called the Magnificat, do you see what I see? In the first half of her song Mary rejoices over what God has done for her by making her the mother of the Christ. The second half of the song is about what God has done in the world. Do you see what I see?
Do you see that all the verbs in the second part of Mary's song are past tense? The Lord "has scattered those who are proud;" "He has brought down rulers from their thrones;" "He has lifted up the humble;" "He has filled the hungry with good things;" "He has sent the rich away empty." Every one of the mighty acts of God for which Mary's soul glorifies the Lord has been done, is accomplished, but don't you see what I see?
Don't you see that in the world around you this just isn't so? Do really see the proud scattered? I see Planned Parenthood still proudly proclaiming it's right to murder babies. I see a host of people proud to have elected a homosexual as mayor of Houston. I see people proudly displaying their anti-Christianity on their car bumpers. Moreover, last time I checked Kim Jong-il still ruled North Korea; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still ruled Iran, and a Castro still ruled Cuba. None of them looked brought down or even close to being brought down. I don't see the humble as being already lifted up either. The Scrooges are still in charge of the world I live in, and they're still stepping on the Bob Cratchit's beneath them. It's only a wonderful life for a honest, family man like George Bailey in a Hollywood movie not in real life.
In real life can you tell me that you see that the Lord has filled the hungry with good things while He has sent the rich away empty? If you can honestly tell me you see that, then you haven't seen the news in the last year and half. The rich weren't being sent away empty, not at least from congress. Car companies, insurance companies, banks, and investment firms came away from congress with billions of tax dollars. And what did the hungry come away with? Haven't you noticed all the ads offering ways for the indebted to get out of debt? Most are schemes, scams, tricks that will only send the hungry away even emptier.
Do you see what I see? If you do, then you can't sing Mary's Magnificat. No, a fitting carol for us to sing is "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day." It comes from a Longfellow poem written in the Civil War after his wife had died and his son had been seriously wounded in battle. The carol opens, "I heard the bells on Christmas day/ Their old familiar carols play,/ And wild and sweet the words repeat/ Of peace on earth, good will to men." The bottom is hit in verse 3: "And in despair I bowed my head/ "There is no peace on earth," I said,/ "For hate is strong and mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good will to men." The carol leaves out the verses of the poem that tell you what led Longfellow to the bottom: "Then from each black, accursed mouth/ The cannon thundered in the South,/ And with the sound the carols drowned/ Of peace on earth, good will to men." "It was as if an earthquake rent/ The hearth-stones of a continent,/ And made forlorn, the households born/ Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Yes, if you see what I see, you cannot but sing with Longfellow of the despair born of the proud unscattered, the unjust still ruling, the humbled still oppressed, the hungry still hungry and the rich getting more. But if you see what the people in our text see, it's a different matter entirely.
Do you see what Elizabeth sees? Elizabeth sees that Mary is the mother of her Lord. Elizabeth doesn't see the barbaric, insane, proud ruler King Herod as her Lord. Elizabeth doesn't see powerful Caesar Augustus ruling the world a her Lord either. She sees that Mary is the Mother of her Lord. Try to process that. Try to get your ahead around that. Standing before her is a very young woman, and Elizabeth sees she is the mother of the Lord of all things.
Only the Holy Spirit can make you see such a wonderful thing as that, and we're told, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greetingElizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." At this time, Baby Jesus is only about 7 days old. Elizabeth sees nothing to even indicate that Mary is with child, but the Holy Spirit sees much father than miles and miles. He sees all the way to eternity. He sees what Luther's sang that "God is with sinners now at one:/ Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,/ Your brother is the eternal God."
People resonate to words like "solidarity," and phrases like "we're all in this together." But what comfort or power is there in other people being with me? That just means I'm surrounded, accompanied, shoulder to shoulder with other sinful, fallen people. Don't point me to the fact that other people are with me because no matter how mighty, wise, wealthy, or confident they might me they can't help me out of my fallen, lost condition.
Elizabeth by the power of the Holy Spirit sees that God is now with sinners in the womb of Mary. That is something worth seeing. Do you see what she sees? The important thing at Christmas is not seeing Scrooge finally make a Christmas visit to his nephew or the Crachit's. The important thing is not seeing the Grinch give back Christmas to Whoville, and it's not even seeing George being supported by his town. No, the answer to seeing proud, ruling men crush the humble and keep them hungry isn't seeing bad men becoming good or good men being rewarded. No, the answer is seeing God in your flesh and blood.
Do you see what Elizabeth sees? How about what John sees? John is a six month old baby in the womb. John sees reason to leap for joy. Once more apart from the Holy Spirit nobody could see this. When the angel Gabriel came to announce that John would be born, he told Zechariah, his father, "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb." That happened as soon as the sound of Mary's greeting reached her ears, and that's why the baby in her womb leaped for joy.
Do you see what John sees? Do you see that God has entered your flesh and blood not to be served but to fight for you? He has entered the arena of flesh and blood to do battle with Sin, Death, and the Devil himself. Have you seen the previews for the movie "Avatar?" Men do battle with exotic, powerful creatures. There's an image of reality from the realm of fantasy. Sin is a monstrous reality in you. You can't defeat it by willpower, discipline, or by ignoring it. Sin is ever at work in you carrying you away to hell as surely as any ogre ever carried away a helpless maiden. And Death? Please don't tell me you see yourself as a match for Death. Dust and ashes are no match for Death. And if you're no match for Sin or Death surely you're no match for the Devil who lies and murders from the start.
Leap for joy. See that God has stepped into the ring on your side. In your flesh and blood, bearing your weaknesses and sorrows, but perfectly holy, He has the right to stand up to Sin, Death, and the Devil. They have no toehold, no beachhead, nothing in Him. See Jesus rushing into the fray like Braveheart, and see that He defeats Sin, Death, and the Devil, by allowing the Devil to execute the just sentence against your sins in His body by dying for them. Find a sin of yours that still needs paying for. If Jesus died for the sins of all the earth who on earth needs to die for their own? What accusation can the Devil bring against you if for Jesus' sake God has declared you not guilty of any of your sins?
Do you see what Elizabeth does? Then confess that the Lord of the universe is in your flesh and blood? Do you see what John does? Then leap for joy that your incarnate Lord fights and wins your battles for you. Finally do you see what Mary sees? Indeed only seeing what she does can enable you to sing her song. Mary sees what Elizabeth and John sees and she sees that she is blest; her child is blest, and blest is the one, anyone, who believes that what the Lord has said to Mary will be accomplished. Earlier in the chapter the Lord told Mary through the angel Gabriel, "[Your Child] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David."
Mary can see the proud as already scattered, the rulers as already brought down, the humble as already lifted up, the hungry as already filled, and the rich as already sent empty away because God told her He would do these things. What God says will happen can and should be counted as already happened. We who are dead in our transgressions and sins are to count ourselves alive because in Baptism God says we are. We who are sinners are to count ourselves as forgiven because God in Absolution says we are. We who weak and unbelieving are to count ourselves as strengthened and preserved in the true faith because God says the Body and Blood of Christ does that for us in Communion.
This is where Longfellow ended up in the last verse of his poem and carol: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:/ "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/ With peace on earth, good will to men." When Longfellow penned these words he didn't see his wife raised or his son healed. He didn't see the Civil War cannons miles away suddenly go silent. No, he saw all the way to heaven where God reigns over all. But you don't have to see that far. See what Elizabeth and John see: that through Mary's womb your Lord is here to save, to make right, to vindicate His people. And look no farther than the altar, font, and pulpit to see Him doing these things right now. So then magnify the Lord with me by counting all that oppose Him and His people as scattered, brought down, and sent away empty. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20091220); Luke 1: 39-55