One of my family traditions, started when my oldest kids were little, is to illustrate the Christmas story from the Bible, one scene at a time on large paper, and post them on the wall. Each week in December, usually in our Family Home Evening, we do another drawing and read that part of the story together. The little kids crowd around and lean over the paper so that it is hard for me to see what I’m drawing, and at some point early on I started sitting at the top of the paper, across from the kids, and drawing from the upside-down perspective. My rule is that every mark I make on the paper has to be done this way, including the lettering. This is a great mental exercise, drawing and writing upside-down, and my drawings are so bad anyway that they are not much worse when I do them this way.
Over the years I have known many people who have had their Christmases turned upside-down because of illness. I told one of those stories a couple of years ago on this blog. Just two weeks ago I said to a patient, “This will go down in history as your Christmas in the hospital. Just get used to that idea now.” But fortunately this patient improved much faster than I expected, and last week he was discharged home after only five days in rehab. This will go down in history as his Christmas miracle.
Actually, the first Christmas was rather an upside-down experience for the Holy Family. The Virgin Mary, “a precious and chosen vessel,” “most fair and beautiful above all other virgins,” had to endure the shame of everyone around her thinking that she had been unchaste. Imagine Joseph’s heartbreak when he believed this about his stunning bride-to-be. But Joseph obeyed the angel who explained the situation and told him to go ahead with the marriage. These were good and righteous people working their way through a very difficult situation, and things just kept getting worse.
A government mandate imposed a burden of travel, and landed them in a stable with the animals instead of the comforts of home on the day the baby was born. We can assume that Mary’s mother was not there to help, instruct, and rejoice with her daughter on the birth of her first baby. And the Christmas story ends with the family fleeing to Eqypt as refugees to escape the slaughter of the innocents.
This remarkable baby, Jesus Christ, was destined to turn religion upside-down. Instead of the people sacrificing to their God, he became the God who sacrificed himself for his people. Jesus Christ has the power, when our lives have been capsized, rolled over, inverted, to set things right again.
Mary knew this, and felt this. Early in her pregnancy she visited her cousin Elisabeth, who was also miraculously expecting a baby destined for a great mission. Little John the Baptist “leaped in her womb […] when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, […] and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” Mary spoke, and testified of the goodness and power of the Lord, expressing certain faith that her own inverted life would be righted again:
“48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48)
The Lord’s ability to turn things upside-down in order to administer justice and mercy is a major theme of Mary’s Magnificat:
“52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:52-53)
In our Christmas celebration this year, let’s put Christ where he belongs: at the beginning, middle, and end, at the top and bottom, and all through it. As George Durrant wrote in Don’t Forget the Star, one of my favorite books, “Christ does not fit into Christmas. He is not a part of Christmas. Jesus Christ is Christmas.” Trying to celebrate this day without him is turning Christmas upside-down.