“. . . he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
At Universal Studios in Orlando there’s a roller coaster called “The Hulk.”
This roller coaster lives up to its name in a couple of ways. First, it’s large and imposing, dominating one corner of the park with a massive system of rails that sprawl and twist and loop. Get anywhere near it and you’ll hear the roar of it mingled with the screams of those who happen to be riding it. “The Hulk” also lives up to its name in that once the ride is over, there’s a good chance you’ll crawl out of your seat looking slightly green.
We’ve been to universal Studios a few times over the years, usually working in a day or so with our time at Disney World. I’ve never had a problem riding “The Hulk,” especially if my kids were eager to get on it. On our last visit to Universal, however, “The Hulk” left me feeling a little green when it finally came to a stop. I had gladly taken my seat on “The Hulk” and I was just as glad to get off it. I wasn’t sick, but I wasn’t quite right either. Seems the fluids around my brain (and elsewhere) had not appreciated being repeatedly sloshed upside down and then quickly right side up.
Maybe it’s age, which I hate to admit. But for whatever reason, being upside down isn’t as fun as it once was.
Where God Shows Up
To be upside down is to be disoriented, thrown off-kilter, out of control. On a roller-coaster that can be entertaining, at least for a while, for some people. But in our life, we’ll work hard to avoid ‘upside down.’ We work hard to stay on our feet, managing circumstances and outcomes and other people as best we can. To be right side up is to be in the best position possible to make sense of what’s happening around us and to us.
The upside down is what we experience when life is thrown around by unexpected and unwelcomed events or circumstances. We have different ways of speaking about this. We’re blindsided, caught off guard, rug pulled out from under the feet. Whatever you call it, it’s disorienting to us and it can leave us feeling a sickness of soul.
During the weeks of Advent we’re going to be thinking of this theme: “The Upside Down of Christmas.” The biblical stories that surround the birth of Jesus are often stories of something unexpected. God is interrupting history in ways that are at times disorienting for those involved. God is doing some surprising things.
The one who has come to be Israel’s king is born in obscurity.
The announcement of this birth is not made at the temple to priests and scholars, but in the rural countryside to night-shift shepherds.
The one foretold by Israel’s prophets is entirely ignored by the religious class of Jerusalem but sought and worshipped by visitors from Persia.
Simply stated, God shows up in the upside down.
Waiting and Watching in the Upside Down
What’s upside down in your life right now?
You may be able to answer honestly that nothing is upside down. Everything in your world is right where it should be, and your feet are firmly planted on solid ground. Indeed, God shows up in those places as well. In fact, God delights in blessing us that way. “My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord” (Psalm 26:2). The right side up is a place to give thanks to God.
But a life of faith is not always lived on level ground, right side up. And the upside down is not evidence that faith is lacking or inadequate. The place of disorientation is also a place of invitation. God may have something for you that you would not know in the right side up.
In these days of Advent, place the upside-down places of your life before God and invite him to come meet you there. Wait and look for his arrival – the very meaning of the word ‘Advent.’
Gracious God, the upside-down in my life seems so out of place in this season. I want my world right side up – family, finances, health, relationships. Give me grace to wait on you in what I find disorienting and threatening. Help me not to deny or ignore or avoid the very places where you are eager to show your power and love. Come in these days of Advent and find us in surprising ways, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.