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Upside Down
December 21, 1997

LUKE 1:39-55

Upside down. To really experience Christmas, celebrate Christmas! When we were in Australia, we experienced an upside-down Christmas! In 1979, I exchanged churches with an Australian pastor for four months. We arrived in St. Lucia, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, in early September, which is spring down under-- upside down. I was pastor of two Uniting Church congregations-- a former Methodist and a former Presbyterian. I asked about Christmas customs.

"We donít do anything special," was the answer.

I was surprised. "You donít have a dinner? You donít have a Christmas program? No Christmas Eve service?"

"No," they said, "but we do have a service on Christmas Day at 7:00 AM."

"Why so early?" I asked naively.

"Youíll see," they answered.

I asked, "Why are there no Christmas trees?"

"Youíll see," they answered.

I did talk them into a dinner, and taught them how to have a potluck Christmas party with a childrenís program. They had a grand time. But, by the time Christmas Day arrived, I understood. It was hot and humid! The service was held early in the morning, because by the time 10:00 rolled around, the sanctuaries which were not air-conditioned were unbearable. After the service, several went home, picked up their tiny artificial tree (too hot for a natural tree) in one hand, gifts in the other, and dinner in the third (!), and went to the beach! We were invited to a parishionerís home for Christmas dinner, which was cold-- cold turkey, cold salads, cold cuts, no gravy! Christmas upside down. But, what a wonderful time we had in Australia.

In Thessalonica, Greece, a mob, unable to find Paul and Silas, dragged Jason and some other Christians before the local authorities, shouting, Acts 17:6, "These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also!" Wherever Christ was preached, wherever the church grew, things were turned upside down. We call it inversion where the nobodies become somebodies, and the somebodies are nobodies.

Upside down began with Christmas. Surely if we were going to start a religious movement to free the Jews and influence the Roman Empire, we wouldnít use an unwed mother who was so poor, she and Joseph had to sacrifice pigeons rather than lambs. We wouldnít send angels to announce the birth to shepherds, the lowest on the social scale. We wouldnít have foreign, pagan astrologers from Iraq be the favored who understood the significance of the star in the sky. We wouldnít have the baby born in a stable. And, if we were trying to impress the powerful, the wise, and the wealthy, we certainly wouldnít have the pregnant maiden sing about a God who scatters the proud, brings down the powerful from their thrones, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty. Upside down!

Christmas is still upside down-- the kind of Christmas where you encounter the Christ-child and find yourself in the presence of the living Lord. We think weíre going to find Christmas in piles of things under a tree, and many of them imitations at that. A recently arrived school teacher in Nome, Alaska, browsed through her latest curriculum resource. She was planning the Christmas pageant with her students. The manual instructed, "For the children playing Santaís reindeer, there should be brown outfits, and passable reindeer horns could be made of bare branches, trimmed to the proper shapes and painted." She looked out at the barren, treeless, snow-covered landscape.

"Well, children," she sighed, "I guess weíll have to do something else. We canít make horns of branches because there isnít a tree for miles."

The children were disappointed. Then one little boy spoke up, "We havenít any trees, teacher, but we do have lots of reindeer horns."

Itís odd how we settle for imitations when the real thing is available. I never could understand why Minnesota dairy farmers got so excited about eating oleo margarine when they could have real butter, and Dairy Queens instead of real ice cream. I canít understand why Hollywood makes inferior remakes of classic movies. Why do people listen to anemic, watered-down elevator music when the originals are available? Why are people settling for a plastic baby in a creche when they could come to church and find the real Jesus! Why are people looking for Christmas in buying and accumulating things, in wild parties, rather than in the church and in their homes with their families? Why do some husbands and wives look for love outside their families, settling for imitations when they have the real thing at home?

Sometimes we look at the real thing without recognizing it, and donít realize what we have. Did you watch the PBS television series on the Lewis and Clark expedition? They hadnít realized how far and how slowly they would have to travel. They hadnít counted on the severe winter. When they finally reached the Columbia River on what would be the final leg of their journey, they were starved for meat. Their diet back east consisted of nine pounds of meat per day . They were so hungry for meat, they bought dogs from Indians. They sat on the shore of the Columbia River eating dog meat while salmon danced in front of them, jumped up and down, practically shouting, "Here we are!" But, the easterners had never seen salmon, and didnít know the real thing when they saw it. They had a lot to learn.

From e-mail, THINGS I HAVE LEARNED,

Iíve learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice. Age 24

Iíve learned that even when I have pains, I donít have to be one. Age 82

Iíve learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up. Age 13

Iíve learned that deep down, I really am kind of glad my parents are so strict. Age 15

Iíve learned that you canít hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk. Age 7

Iíve learned that you shouldnít go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. Age 64

Iíve learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing "Silent Night." Age 7

I wonder how much of Christmas is missed because of the things we havenít learned, because we settle for imitations, and we often donít recognize the real thing. With the eyes of faith, sharpen your vision, look through Godís eyes rather than eyes conditioned by the world. God sees things upside down.

With the eyes of faith, you can find a feast in a peanut butter sandwich.

You can find enjoyment in the laughter of a child.

You can find love in a hug from a child.

You can find beautiful memories in a Christmas card. I received a letter last week from the nephew of an old family friend, telling me that she had died. He shared memories he has of my grandfathers. What a joy it was to be reminded to remember.

You can find companionship in our weekday 10:00 coffee breaks, as the staff and whoever is in the building, sit around and swap stories and jokes.

You can find acceptance in our church where you are loved just for who you are, without pretense.

You can find the Christ child in giving and receiving. Thatís Christmas.

The Christmas story is being re-enacted in our midst even as I speak. Sue Rivera and her son, Daniel, are moving into an apartment on January 6. But, last week they received the startling word that they must move out of the Rivera house on December 26. The prospect of a mother and son sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by their furniture for 11 days in the winter touched hearts. Maude and Vance Edmonson have invited Sue and Daniel to stay with them. I telephoned Father Mike of St. Patrickís Roman Catholic parish, who lives with Father Michael next door to Sue and Daniel. I explained the situation and asked if there might be a possibility the furniture could be stored in their garage until January 6. "Of course, no problem. We can find room," Father Mike responded. Jody said she will ask some of our high school youth to help. So, on December 26, at 1:00 PM, our youth will carry furniture from a Methodist home to the Catholic priestsí garage, truly an ecumenical movement! Now, that is Christmas! Giving generously, receiving graciously, and do you know who will be there in the midst of it all? The Christ-child! Wonít Jesus be smiling!

Do you want to experience a real Christmas? Celebrate Christmas upside down!

ã 1997 Douglas I. Norris