Midweek Advent 1 – Exodus 32:1-8, 15-34
Look inside the stable. What do you see? A brown cow stands close by to where the newborn Jesus now lies.
The irony of our Old Testament reading is not to be lost on anyone. The people are at the base of the mountain constructing and worshipping an idol, declaring that this golden calf is the one who brought them out of Egypt; all the while, Moses is on the top of the mountain receiving the Law from God, chief among those laws is quite simply: You shall have no other gods.
There is perhaps no more ridiculous excuse than the one given by Aaron that he simply threw the gold into the fire and out popped this golden calf. And yet there is perhaps no greater foolishness than that of the people who literally hand their gold and precious metals to Aaron and demand that he make them an idol.
The golden calf is quite literally made from the hands of the very people who are now declaring that this golden calf, who a mere 24 hours earlier did not even exist, is the one who brought about their deliverance from slavery. The same people who had seen the plagues sent upon the Egyptians, the same people who had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, only to see Pharaoh and his army be swallowed up by the sea; are now worshiping this dead and lifeless thing that they have made to their own specifications.
Quite the head scratcher.
And yet, perhaps not really that puzzling at all when you compare it to the idols that people bow down and worship today.
Is a ball, used to play sports, really all that different, when I can go to the store and buy as many as I want?
Are clothes, used to make statements of one’s status, really all that different, when they are discarded at the end of the season?
Are electronics, used to communicate in a whole host of mediums with others, really all that different, when they are constantly being upgraded in favor of something better?
Are the idols that you bow down to, really anymore reasonable, than one that is crafted by the hands of those who were so eager to bow down and worship it at the foot of Mt. Sinai?
That is the absurdity of an idol, the people at Sinai have to construct it themselves. You? You have to go buy yours, and then hope that they have it in stock, lest they have to special order it. You have to go out and bring your idol to you.
Is there any logic to this at all?
Did a golden calf really bring the people out of slavery?
Do sports, or clothes, or electronics, or food; do any of these idols really make your life better for more than an hour or two; if that?
Of course not; they are all dead, worthless things. You only get as much enjoyment out of your idol as you put into it.
The golden calf that stands at the base of Mt. Sinai was in no position to lead the people to the Promised Land. The people were going to have to literally pick it up and carry it. This calf offered no pillar of cloud by day and no pillar of fire by night, let alone the forgiveness of sins.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that this newborn who now lies in the Bethlehem manger, who seems so helpless, is more powerful than all the idols combined, times 10.
Look at the cow in your nativity scenes, lit him stand as a reminder that you are completely unworthy of the Savior who lies at the center. For like the children of Israel, you are quick to forget the Lord your God, who called you in the waters of Holy Baptism, the first chance you get.
And yet, the God who comes to you in Bethlehem’s manger is not just another dead and lifeless God. This is a living and active God, a God who hears the cries of His people both in turmoil and in exaltation. This is a living and active God, who cares when you cast Him aside in favor of the next game, or the next toy, or the next gadget, or the next bit of gossip. This is a God who is a jealous God, desiring you only for Himself.
This child who now lies in the manger existed from before time began, and He has come in human flesh to suffer and die for your sin of bowing down to idols.
For your idols, whatever they may be, do not care for you or for your salvation. But this one who now lies in the cow’s manger box does care; He cares so much, that He has left the right hand of the throne of God to come to earth where He will suffer real pain and real death, so that you might live.
What idol has ever done that?
And so it is at the name of Jesus that even the demons, even those things which you claim to be gods, even they fall down and worship this Jesus. Even they recognize that this is the true and living God.
This is the God who has brought His people out of slavery in Egypt here to Mount Sinai; this is the God who has called you out of the slavery of your sin in the waters of Holy Baptism. This living and active God has called you to be His own, and to live under Him in His kingdom for all time.
This child in the manger has come to redeem sinners, He has come to redeem you. He has come, not because you picked Him up and carried Him, nor has He come because you ordered Him to do so; He has come out of His great love for you. A living and active God with a living and active love is who saves you.
Look in the stable, there He is, lying in the manger, for you and for me.