“Kassie Warren.” Silence filled the gymnasium as his voice died slowly, a hundred breathless students behind me. I approached the microphone and prayed for Jesus to come back before I got there. He didn’t. “Upheave,” the man pronounced. Oh! I totally knew this! “Upheave,” I repeated in my fifth-grade voice. “U. P. H. E. A. V. … Upheave.”
It was my first and last assigned word at the Creek County spelling bee, and even then, I had an inkling that the term would be burned into my brain for the rest of my life: the tragic case of the missing E.
According to dictionary.com, upheave is defined as “to lift up; to force up with much power; to cause a major disturbance or disorder in.” My little heart couldn’t have known then what a beautiful concept this word drenched in my own embarrassment would become to me.
Snug and comfy in the middle of Mary’s Christmas song, we find a God who delights in upheaval. Not the pointless, impersonal kind one might associate with Loki, the Norse god of mischief, but the sort pregnant with purpose, justice, and kindness. Here is Luke 1:50-53:
And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
Do you see it, this massive forcing up of the last kid to be picked? This King who laughs as He turns the world of the arrogant upside-down? This is upheaval at its best, and we find it right here at Christmas like the mess of wrapping paper and ribbons and tags scattered around the tree after all the fun has been had.
Matthew Henry points to this upheaval and cheers:
“God takes a pleasure in disappointing their expectations who promise themselves great things in the world, and in out-doing the expectations of those who promise themselves but a little; as a righteous God, it is His glory to abase those who exalt themselves, and strike terror on the secure; and, as a good God, it is His glory to exalt those who humble themselves, and to speak comfort to those who fear before Him.”
To be sure, I don’t always find myself in the camp of the lowly and humble. Pride has dogged my steps in the past, and I imagine it will follow me all the way home. But the goodness and mercy David crows about in Psalm 23 are there, nipping at my heels, as well. We live in the now-and-not-yet, so arrogance in my flesh wars against humility in my spirit. Not surprisingly, the God who wrestled Jacob til the break of day dives headlong into the tussle with me. I too leave with a limp, the reminder of His fierce determination on my behalf. I’m often my biggest enemy, and one that must be put in her place if I’m to have any chance of a life that sings freedom.
It’s purely the mercy of God that catches and strangles bits of my pride. He pokes holes in my self-sufficiency because of the depth of His love. There must be a breaking down before there can be a building up—this is the restoration that renders my way helpless. Only when my shredded life preserver (patched together from my opinions, plans, and willpower) can be seen as inadequate am I able to release my hold on it—and its hold on me—and cling to the true Rescue my soul needs. If I’m not sent away hungry, I won’t recognize that the food I’m filling myself with is eating away at me. Just as the exalting of the poor is the realization of their salvation, the bringing low of the powerful allows the awareness of their need for it.
God is in the business of merciful upheaval, carving caverns of our pride. When we cry out to Him because it’s all too much, He fills the gaping places with good things. This King is up to His elbows in mud, battling for our muddy souls made of clay and glory. Jesus’ robe smells much more of stinky beggars and thieves than of bleach and disinfectant. May we never lose sight of the great power of His love for us, and may we never settle for a tidy Savior.