An Upside-Down Christmas
By GRACE SOSA
When I was growing up, my parents had a glass nativity set that we put up every year. The lights from the Christmas tree would cast beautiful colors on the clear figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. But one year, we may have been rushing to put up the decorations a little too quickly, and someone put baby Jesus upside-down.
When my little sister discovered it, she got sad and asked, “What happened to baby Jesus?” The indentation in the glass made it look like he was gone.
Maybe this Christmas season feels a little bit upside-down to you. You may be used to having large dinner parties with family and friends this time of year, but this year you kept it small. You may be used to traveling, but this year you stayed home. Even church is a little bit upside-down, and you might think like my sister did, “What happened to Jesus? Is he still here?”
I think it’s important to remember that the first Christmas was a little upside-down, too. A virgin gave birth. The king of kings was born in a feeding box in a stable. Not kings or rulers, but shepherds were the first to hear this earth-shattering good news: God is with us.
In the Magnificat, Mary recognizes that God’s ways proclaim a divine reversal. She praises God for choosing her to be the mother of Jesus, but her song is about much more than that. She sings, “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” (Luke 1:52-53, NRSV). In this prophetic song, Mary both remembers what God has done and proclaims what she knows God will do through Jesus.
It was as if she knew that Jesus’ whole ministry would be proclaiming an upside-down kingdom. He spoke of a place where servants would be greater than masters, where children would lead, and where outcasts would be given a place of honor. Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5, NRSV).
I wonder if today Jesus would add, “Blessed are you who stay home, for you are protecting the vulnerable. Blessed are you who find new and creative ways to connect, for you are cultivating community.”
As a children’s minister, I’ve had to think of new ways to invest in our kids. I’ve written letters, made Zoom calls, and created a “going on a bear hunt” activity. We’ve just finished recording our digital Christmas pageant. We scheduled kids to come at 15-minute intervals to social distance and record every child saying their lines and singing their songs. While these interactions have been different, I have cherished the time that I have been able to spend with the kids of our church.
Even though this Advent season seems strange, we may have had it upside-down all along. Hear me out, I want things to go back to normal as much as we all do. But maybe this time, where we are forced to slow down, will help us remember how slowly Mary had to walk on the road to Bethlehem. Maybe our small gatherings will remind us of the small family God gave his son to raise. Maybe our time at home will remind us that God made the journey for us—coming into our homes and our hearts.
Grace Sosa is the coordinator of children’s ministry at First Central Presbyterian Church and a master of divinity student at Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology