An Advent Homily: The Upside-Downedness of God
Remarks delivered by Humanities Teacher Rick Trumbo at the Upper School Christmas Assembly December 14th
One of the great themes in biblical religion is that God is constantly turning the world upside down, reversing the order of what we ordinarily expect. Even pagan Greek and Roman religion had a glimmer of this awareness, celebrated in the Roman Saturnalia and Greek Dionysian worship. You will remember that during the Saturnalia, slaves would be temporarily free and be able to sass their masters, and children would lord it over parents. But Greek and Roman upside-downedness is small potatoes compared to the Bible in this respect.
The great passage is Isaiah 40, which is also where Handel begins his glorious Messiah, telling us that “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low.” Similarly, in her Magnificat, Mary sings, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”
Biblical history is filled with examples of God’s upside-downedness. God chooses Jacob, the younger brother, over Esau, the elder. He even choose a Canaanite prostitute, Rahab, to be the ancestor of the Messiah! Clearly God will stop at nothing to shock us and upset our expectations. Consider also His choice of David, a youth who was so insignificant that his own father did not bother to send for him when the prophet Samuel was looking among his sons to anoint a new king.
Of course, the greatest instance of God turning things upside down came in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Think about it: a King comes, and He is born in a stable! The Almighty God takes on humanity, and becomes a helpless little baby who has to be carried around. This whole pattern culminates in the rightful King being executed on a cross—but then, against all expectation, He rose into life and glory.
A lot of what I am sharing today has grown out of reading G. K. Chesterton, one of my favorite authors who is known for his love of paradox. I can picture Chesterton raising the question, which I invite us to ponder today: Why is it that God has to keep turning everything upside down? A very Chestertonian answer might be, perhaps God has to turn things upside down because in our fallenness we have become very wrong side up. All of our goals, loves, ambitions, and desires have been twisted wrong way up by sin. So when God turns things upside down, He is actually setting us right.
My prayer for each of us is that our sinful hearts and loves will be turned rightside up by the God who perpetually turns the world upside down.
Mr. Rick Trumbo is a beloved Upper School Humanities and Latin teacher, with over a decade of service to Veritas School.