America Didn't Vote but God Spoke
There are three main singing competitions on TV: American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor. The climax of all these shows is when the results are announced and some singers are going home. Those results are usually preceded by the host saying in somber tones: "America has voted and" In a democracy the people's vote is supreme. In our text God speaks, but what's at stake isn't a multimillion dollar recording contract but whether you go home like Elizabeth and Mary filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus.
America doesn't vote but God speaks in our text and idols come crashing down. Actually Mary puts it all in more of a past tense. "He has scattered; He has brought down; He has sent." She sees this as already done, an accomplished fact. Everything has changed now that God the Son has entered her womb.
You can go backward and forward with what God speaks here. When we hear "God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts," we can think Tower of Babel where proud men thought they could storm the gates of heaven and make a name for themselves. Then God came down and scattered them by confusing their languages. Or you can go forward in Luke. The self-righteous Pharisee is sent back from his proud prayers without mercy, forgiveness, or heaven.
God tells us here He has brought down the rulers from their thrones; we can go back to Daniel where we see that the Messiah smashes the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Or we can go forward in Luke; none of the civil or religious rulers stay in power. The chief priests are thrown down by the Romans; Pilate is removed as governor; and some Herods are exiled while others die horribly.
God speaks and the rich are sent empty away. We can go back to Exodus where the Old Testament Church got the riches of the Egyptians when they left their slavery and the fantastical riches of the king of Tyre are swept away or we can go forward in Luke to see poor Lazarus inheriting the riches of heaven while the rich man roasts in hell or we can see the rich young man go away sad and empty from Jesus.
In the singing competitions, the tension is palpable when the host intones, "America has voted and" How much more so when God speaks? Mary heard Him speak, and Gabriel sent her to Elizabeth to prove she had heard rightly. She a virgin, who had never known a man, was to give birth to the Most High God. She was the Mother of Yahweh, of God. And that changed everything. God was no longer only far away in heaven or dwelling in a cloud over the holy of holies. He was as near as her flesh and blood, and He came to save and rule. Down come all idols; our American one's too. The idle of pride, of rule, of riches don't share the throne with Jesus. Men, their ideas, their power, their money don't rule. By sending Jesus, God is reasserting His reign over this fallen creation, and by coming as a Man, He shows He's doing it for us men and our salvation.
God speaks and Mary sings of American idols falling. America didn't vote about whether this should happen and America didn't vote about the next voice you'll hear. The unique feature of The Voice is the judges don't at first see the contestants. They judge them solely on the sound of their voice. Another name for John the Baptist is "the voice crying in the wilderness." In our text God spoke and that voice, the voice, was empowered.
When Mary meets Elizabeth, Baby Jesus is only about a week old in Mary's womb. John is six months old. Cast down any scientific, medical, or rational idols that may be ruling in your mind which tell you a seven day old baby is a non-person and babies six months in the womb can know nothing. Mary, the mother of Jehovah, the Lord, was able by the sound of her voice to give the Spirit to Elizabeth and make the 6 month old John leap for joy.
Neither Jesus nor John can see each other, but when Mary, pregnant with the Lord by the Holy Spirit coming upon her and by power of the Most High God overshadowing her, speaks it's the Voice of God. And that Voice bestows the Holy Spirit on Elizabeth and fulfills Gabriel's promise that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. God spoke and the voice that would announce that the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world had come is empowered.
If the voice of the Mother of the Lord can do that, what about the Voice of the Lord Himself? In Advent vespers we talked about how the Voice of the Lord breaks cedars, moves mountains, etc. Well that Voice makes water able to regenerate life; that Voice makes words powerful enough to send your sins away from you; that Voice is able to give His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine to strengthen and preserve you in faith.
Once more I'm ahead of myself. All of what I just said is true, but why? I'm saying some incredible, wonderful things when I say: the Water in that font is able to give everlasting life; the Words of forgiveness coming from my mouth are true and certain before Almighty God in heaven; the Bread on that altar is the Body of Christ and the Wine there is His Blood. That's either nuts or "A Great and Might Wonder," something to be celebrated and sung about. Well, it is true and it all comes down to the X-factor.
The singing competition The X Factor is based on the premise that it's not simply the voice that makes a star, but a certain, indefinable, yet very real thing a person has that attracts others to them. This X-factor everyone senses but has a hard time putting their finger on exactly what it is. This is what the show The X Factor claims to be discovering by America's vote. I'm here to say God spoke and He shows us the true X-factor. It's not Mary herself but the Child she carries. This X-factor is what brings American idols down, empowers the voice, makes Water life-giving, Words forgiving, and Bread the Body of God and Wine His Blood.
Jump to the end of the text. It says God has remembered to be merciful to Abraham, that is, to the Seed of Him forever. That's my translation. The most important change from your insert is that I have correctly translated Seed' singular, not descendants' plural. You know this is correct from Genesis and Galatians Bible classes. God says seed not seeds because He is talking only about Jesus, the Promised Seed. To Jesus were all the Promises of God made. In Jesus are all the promises of God kept. God looks at Jesus and remembers to be merciful to sinners, to give them everything they need to inherit everlasting life.
Jesus the Promised Seed of Abraham has the X-factor. He is true God from eternity but also true Man from the Virgin Mary. He has all the power of God to do what even perfect man could not do. Keep all of God's laws all of the time. Yet that would do us no good if He weren't also true Man. Why? Because as true God, Jesus wasn't under any of God's laws. No, He had to be born of a woman to be under, be obligated to our laws.
And so it was with paying for our sins. It was man that had to suffer, deserved to suffer. It was man that had to die not just once but eternally since he had sinned against the eternal God. As true God Jesus couldn't suffer or die. As true Man He could and did, but the death of one, even one perfect man, wouldn't be sufficient to pay for everyone. The blood of even a perfect man wouldn't be thick enough or rich enough to cover a world's sins. The blood of God could and did. The brutal suffering and eternal dying of God in the Man Jesus was able and did satisfy the wrath of God against a world's sins, against your sins, be they many or few or just that one that keeps surfacing and you long to be freed from.
You can hear Mary singing of the X-factor that her son has. God has arms of flesh by which He will scatter the proud and lift up the lowly, but not in the way you think. No, God in Christ takes those arms and spreads them out on a cross. There the sins of the proud, the rebellious, the idolatrous are paid for, and then having been risen from the dead by a Father satisfied with His sacrifice for all, Jesus spreads those arms saying, "Come unto Me all you weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest." And where are those arms spread for you? In the Baptism that St. Paul says clothes you with Christ. In the Absolution that Jesus says has the Spirit able to open heaven so you're welcomed with open arms.
God spoke and revealed to Mary that she carries the X-factor: the Man who is God, the God who is Man, and so she sings. She sings of the God who not only does things with His arm, but fills the hungry with good things. If you think only of intangible things such as forgiveness, hope, joy, peace, you're missing the X-factor. You're content with the voice of John being empowered and American Idols crashing down. Mary sings of more. She sings of something, of Someone who will actually fill the hungry.
Who can this be but the X-Factor Man who is God and calls Himself the Bread of Life? Who can this be but God who is Man who gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine and says, "Take eat; take drink?" If you think Mary is singing only or even primarily of intangible things, of spiritual blessings, you have put yourself in a Christmas special where the person tries to get into the Christmas spirit or to drum up a belief in Kris Cringle.
Mary sings of a real, tangible filling that only someone with Flesh and Blood could give and do. Go from this reality. It changes everything. It ushers in a whole new era where American idols are cast down, where the voice that preaches Christ is empowered, and where the X-Factor is shown to be Jesus and to be for you. Mary didn't win a multimillion dollar recording contract but boy could she sing. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20121223); Luke 1: 39-55