“God Turns the World Upside Down”Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker Luke 1:46b-55 Year C: 4th Sunday of Advent
Text in bold italic is to be sung. It may be sung a cappella by the preacher or a soloist, or it may be sung by the choir or the choir and congregation. If it is accompanied, please limit the introduction to a single chord or note to give the performers the starting pitch.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Have you ever visited one of those upside-down houses? You know, where you walk into a room and in front of you, on the floor, is a chandelier upside down, pointing toward the ceiling. And on the ceiling, there are chairs bolted and tables bolted so that, with a little imagination, you feel as if the laws of physics, particularly as they apply to gravity, no longer hold true.
Well, the world can seem upside down in many ways, not just physically. I imagine being a Jew during the time just before Jesus’ birth. Because I am under the rule of absentee conquerors, and because fellow Jews collect taxes for the Romans and kowtow to these rulers and their military forces, I want the Messiah to come with three main attributes, a warrior (someone who will conquer), a ruler (someone who will supplant the Romans with Jewish law), and a judge (who clearly condemns the ungodly and rewards the righteous). This is the messiah I would have wanted.
Sometimes I imagine I was eight years old at the time of Jesus’ birth and lived in a village not far from Bethlehem. I remember lights glowing in the sky and a star that shimmered and shined brighter than any other star. Maybe the wind carried sounds to me like a distant choir singing joyful praises. My mother came into my room to comfort me when I beheld these things through my open window. Then, thirty years later I witness a renowned rabbi, at the Sermon on the Mount, who preaches “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and “the poor shall be lifted up.” I think to myself, “surely this is not the Messiah. He cannot be.”
Had I witnessed the conversation between Elizabeth and Mary some months before Jesus’ birth, my world would have turned upside down. I would have been astonished when Mary sang, “God has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Nowell, sing we loud!
God today hath poor folk raised
And cast a-down the proud.
Although Jesus is the savior we needed so badly, he is not the savior I would have wanted. I would have wanted a mighty warrior to conquer the lands and peoples we fear, a ruler to assuage our fears by the rule of laws, and a judge to externalize and implement what our lesser angels insist on.
I don’t want servitude, self-denial, and forgiveness. I think this is true for a lot of us. We fear the self-denial and compassion preached by Jesus. We fear forgiveness as a way of life.
How does this discomfort with Jesus manifest itself in our daily lives? We exalt the mighty on their thrones. We denigrate the meek. We cherish and admire the rich, and shun the poor. We celebrate “the good life” while ignoring the hungry.
Brothers and sisters, this is not God’s will. This is the small-minded, selfish voice of the world, the part of us afraid to let go and to let God supersede our wanton earthly desires. We need to follow our better angels. We need to change our thinking: We need to honor the poor and treat them well. We need to lift up the downhearted. We need to take time to visit the frail and elderly.
William Penn said, “Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity, but for that reason it should be most our care to learn it.” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/william_penn_387103)
Love, love, love, love,
The gospel in a word is love.
Love your sister and your brother,
Love, love, love.
If we read the words of Jesus over and over again, we begin to get an inkling of what Christianity means and how it affects our lives. We also know, from Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise to God:
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
The faithful Jews, at the time of Jesus’ birth and in their own way, said to God, “We want a warrior!” and God gave them a sacrificial lamb. The faithful Jews said, “We want a ruler!” and God gave them a servant. The faithful Jews said, “We want a judge!” and God gave them the most unexpected of gifts, a Savior who redeemed the world with love and grace, not with judgment and condemnation.
Mary realized how God turned the world upside down when her cousin Elizabeth visited her and Mary proclaimed the Magnificat. Jesus turned the world upside down in the Sermon on the Mount. Together, their words resonate in unison across the ages to guide us now.
Mary: He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Jesus: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Mary: he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Jesus: Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Mary: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
Jesus: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Which Messiah do you want? Which Messiah do you need? A warrior, a king, a judge?
Or a sacrificial lamb, a servant, a savior who embraced and edified the poor, the hungry, the lowly, the meek, the merciful?
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down!
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, thou are all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art:
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
It is time to ask Jesus to come into our hearts, to lift us up and to use us. It is time to seek the Kingdom of God. It is time to rejoice in the birth of redemption. It is time to take “the ways of the world” and turn them upside down. By submitting to God’s will, we find the greatest freedom.
No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, and wonders of His love.
About the writer:
Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker retired at the end of July 2018 from Furman University after forty-one years on the music faculty. He continues to sing, to teach voice, to write poetry and fiction, to act, and to share time with his precious wife, Gail, and their friends. Currently he aspires to write the great American novel, an epic poem, and a choral-orchestral piece appropriate for performance on July 4 concluding with full musical forces in addition to cannons and church carillons. Nothing brings him and Gail greater joy than visiting with their sons and their families.
Scripture and Music:
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Silent Night, Holy Night
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The First Nowell the Angel Did Say
For unto Us A Child Is Born (Handel)
Candlelight Carol (John Rutter)
Some Children See Him (Alfred Burt)
Angel s Carol (John Rutter)
Away in a Manger (Mack Wilberg)
Angels We Have Heard on High (Mack Wilberg)
Love Came Down at Christmas
The Birthday of a King (Neidlinger)
Gesu Bambino (Pietro Yon)
Silent Night, Holy Night