You may have heard me or Paul or Ashley talk about this before, but one of
the things we’ve been obsessed with in the Christ Church offices over the
past few years is the musical Hamilton .
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave since 2015, Hamilton is a rap
musical telling the story of Alexander Hamilton and his experiences during
the American Revolution, helping to draft the Constitution, and helping to
build the early American republic. It won a lot of Tonys, made Lin-Manuel
Miranda an international celebrity, sells out every night on Broadway and
on tour. It’s kind of a big deal.
Anyway, at the end of the first act, George Washington and Alexander
Hamilton have just won the battle of Yorktown, one of the most decisive
battles of the Revolutionary War that essentially guaranteed the defeat of
the British. As the British are laying down their arms and surrendering to
the Americans, the song that arises—based on the actual song that the
British band played while their army surrendered—is called “The World
Turned Upside Down.”
It’s a poignant reminder that this wasn’t how everyone thought things were
going to go. The rag-tag group of shabby, uncivilized, under-supplied and
under-funded colonials wasn’t supposed to defeat the mighty British army.
(As an aside, it’s also important to note here that despite the song, the
world wasn’t really turned upside down: the same people who were rich and
powerful in the colonial era were, by and large, the rich and powerful
people in the early Republic, and more importantly and tragically, the
people who were enslaved in 1775 were still wearing chains in 1789. It was
only a “revolution” in the sense that America was ruled by homegrown
aristocrats who could pretend they were self-made, rather than British ones
with no such pretensions. But I digress.)
I’m bringing it up here because that song’s title could be a theme for this
week’s readings: The world turned upside down. Really turned upside
As an entry point let’s use the passage from Hebrews, where Jesus comes
into the world to abolish the old order of sacrifices and offerings and burnt
offerings and sin offerings, and bring about a new one.
The old order was the system of sacrifices and offerings that had become
exploitative and oppressive in the regime of the Temple in Jerusalem,
giving ample opportunity to profiteers to make a quick buck off of the
honest and sincere piety of the people of first-century Judea. This was the
system that Jesus came to literally overthrow, as he entered the Temple and
began turning over the money-changers’ tables and casting them out of the
house of the Lord.
What’s the new order? “See, I have come to do your will.” To do God’s will,
first and foremost. As another Gospel passage (and an old camp song) puts
it, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness.”
Seek first the Kingdom of God. But what does that mean?
Let’s turn now to the Gospel, and for some context, let’s go back a few
verses before this passage begins. Mary has just received a visit from the
angel Gabriel, a messenger from God, who has told her that God has chosen
her to bear a child who will be the Messiah. Mary is, quite understandably,
a little skeptical; after all, she’s a virgin, and, well, we all know how babies
are made, don’t we?
So the angel offers proof that God can do anything: he tells her that her
cousin Elizabeth, who is both very old and thought to be unable to conceive,
is already starting her third trimester. So Mary hurries off to see Elizabeth
out in the hills, and the instant Mary comes into view, Elizabeth’s
baby—who ends up being John the Baptist, FYI—leaps in her womb, and
Elizabeth gives Mary a blessing. This confirms everything Gabriel had told
So Mary has a vision—a vision of the Kingdom of God. The rulers are
brought down from their thrones, and the humble lifted up. The poor are
filled with good things, while the rich lose everything. God will have mercy
on Israel, which has suffered centuries of indignities and abuses under one
empire after another.
This is a vision of the world truly turned upside down—a vision that echoes
the one from Micah in our other reading, where the humble little town of
Bethlehem becomes the birthplace of a powerful and just ruler, who
inaugurates a new Kingdom and a new era of peace.
Pay close attention to the verb tenses in the passages from Micah and Luke.
In Micah, it’s all about what will happen, in the future tense. “From you
shall come forth … and he shall stand and feed his flock … and they shall live
The image he uses is a woman who is in labor—who is undergoing
tremendous pain and agony, but in anticipation of a moment of unbridled
But in Mary’s song, the Kingdom is in the present perfect tense. For those
of us who aren’t grammar nerds, the purpose of the present perfect tense is
used to link the present and the past—to talk about something that started
in the past and is continuing to occur.
Mary isn’t talking about what God will do in the sweet sweet by-and-by,
about some undefinable future heavenly kingdom. She’s talking about what
God has done. “He has scattered the proud… he has brought down the
powerful from their thrones… he has filled the hungry with good things.”
The message here is clear: Things are beginning to be set in motion. The
process has begun. The ball is already rolling, and there’s no stopping it
The only choice that’s left is how we’ll respond to it: Will we get on board?
Will we be part of the Kingdom, of the world being turned upside down?
Will we bring a message of hope to the poor and humble by being part of
the great Kingdom action that was inaugurated two thousand years ago by
Mary and her son Jesus?
Or, by our inaction or our action, will we engage in a futile effort to fight for
the present order—because change is frightening, because faith is a leap, or
because we happen to be the rich ones who will lose everything and the
mighty who will be cast down from their thrones?
Don’t answer too quickly: as a room full of relatively well-off citizens of the
most powerful and wealthy nation in the world, Mary’s vision of the
Kingdom should give us a little bit of pause and trigger us to re-evaluate
how we’re living our lives.
The world turned upside down: That’s the message of Advent and the
message of Christmas. The King of the Universe, the Second Person of the
Trinity, sent to inaugurate the Kingdom in which the poor are filled to the
brim and the lowly are made powerful, enters the world as a crying and
helpless baby, borne by an unwed mother who is bewildered and confused
and yet still makes her song, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit
rejoices in God my Savior.”
It’s already happening. The train has already left the station. The only
choice left is for us: Are we on board?