Christmas 2016 – Signs of the First Coming or the Second?

December 25, 2016

Unless you have been frozen in a cryogenic state like Han Solo or Ted Williams (almost), you know that 2016 has been a year unlike many others.  I could argue that it was unique or unprecedented, but those are absolutes that I wouldn’t be able to prove. Therefore,  I will simply stick to the objective facts and state that 2016 is unlike any year we have seen in over a century – at least in MLB.

For actual, visual proof of that premise look no farther than the intersection of Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago. That’s the address of Wrigley Field, which opened in 1914, over 100 years ago.  In 2016 for the first time ever it became the residence of MLB’s Commissioner’s Trophy, representing the winner of the World Series.   That’s right, the last time the Cubs won the World Series (108 years ago), the team played not in venerable Wrigley Field but in West Side Park (and actually the second version of that structure). http://deadballbaseball.com/?p=2358.

Since cryogenics don’t work (yethttps://vanwinkles.com/latest-science-of-cryogenic-sleep-human-hibernation-for-space-travel), I’m sure you know that the Cubs clinched the championship in extra innings against MLB’s new Lovable Losers CLE. (What more does it take to establish a curse than to have lost two World Series Game 7’s in extra innings?) As I wrote in the summary of this year’s competition, it is at least ironic and perhaps prophetic that the year the Cubs break the Curse of the Goat is also the year six members of the Society predicted that they would do just that.  Was that simply the law of averages finally catching up to the Cubs’ futility or a sign that some of us were expecting something miraculous to happen on Earth?

Certainly the signs of something different in Wrigleyville were available for all to see. The arrival over the past five years of Epstein, Maddon, Bryant, Rizzo, Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Russell, Baez, Schwarber, Chapman and even Heyward all pointed to better results than had been seen in many decades on the North Side.  And I didn’t even mention the 2016 free agent addition – Ben Zobrist.  All he did was become the 2016 World Series MVP and win his second consecutive World Series, having played with KCR in 2015.  (I also didn’t mention John Lackey because as I wrote on October 11 he just seems so unpleasant – the opposite of Ben Zobrist – http://christianindex.org/chicago-cubs-ben-zobrists-man-faith/).

Looking at this Cubs line-up, an experienced baseball observer (including several Society members) had to expect success, even in a place where success hasn’t been seen in this millennium and barely was seen in the prior one.  But succeed the Cubs did, winning more games than any other MLB team and then overcoming a 3 games to one deficit in the World Series to win it in 7 games (the last two on the road).

People in Chicago risked losing their jobs to drive to Cleveland for Game 7 just so they could be at the ballpark in case this happened.  Not in the ballpark, just at the park.  Those who actually wanted to see the game placed a big bet on winning, since tickets went for as much as $20k!  I wonder if the willingness of some of the CLE fans to sell their tickets constituted the worst kind of “sell-out” and contributed to the team’s demise?  We often say that money is worth more than a championship to some players, but apparently that is true even for some fans.

In contrast, several of the Cubs’ fans sacrificed going to the ballpark in devotion to their departed family members. They preferred to listen to the game at the graves of lost loved ones so they could share the moment with them.  They made this choice even if there was just a possibility that the Cubs would win and a certainty that even if they did the shared memory would be one-sided.  But what a memory. The Cubs played a World Series game 7 in a cemetery – and won! What better way to describe 2016?

It was both an expected and yet shocking occurrence.  And that brings me to the point of this post – my first feature blog entry for the entire year. (It has been an unusual year for me, too.)  So far this may sound like a New Year’s reminiscence, but I actually have a different retrospective in mind – one that I have tried to express each of the past several years at this time but which seems more necessary this year.

This is Christmas, the day that Christians mark an event that was also both expected and yet shocking.  The Nation of Israel had long-awaited the appearance of her prophesied king – one with the stature of Moses.  Moses as both the deliverer from Egypt and the giver of the Law was viewed as the archetype for the one to come, even more than Father Abraham or King David.   Indeed, Moses kept himself in their minds by having prophesied that the leader to come would be like him:  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”  Deut. 18:15.

Most likely the observant Jews looking for this event were thinking of an appearance like Moses made before Pharaoh, a grown man with miraculous powers.  An impressive personal appearance and a voice made for the movies would, of course, help set the stage. (http://daytonjewishobserver.org/2014/12/moses-at-the-movies/).  Instead, they got a refugee baby of questionable parentage born in a stranger’s barn.  But was the story that began in the manger in Bethlehem nearly two thousand years ago really so different from Moses’ story?

Moses was born to Jewish parents under oppression by a world power (Egypt).  He was hidden from the authorities to avoid being killed by Pharaoh and ultimately raised by an adoptive family.  Jesus was born to Mary, a Jewish mother, who lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire.  He was hidden from the local government to avoid being killed by Herod and was ultimately raised by his adoptive father Joseph.

Moses was called out of exile in Midian to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  He “proclaimed Liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof,” words so powerful that they were inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia almost three thousand years later!  (Lev. 25:10 – https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/stories-libertybell.htm).

Jesus came from Nazareth in the Galilee (the same as exile to the Jewish leaders of the day – “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:19-20; quoting Isaiah 61:2).  Indeed the Lord’s favor ushered in by Jesus’ birth was actually liberty from bondage of a different sort.  As the angel foretold to Mary: “You will give birth to a son and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21).

That concept was both expected and yet shocking. The Nation of Israel expected Divine deliverance from the Romans, but they did not expect the deliverance to come through a carpenter and be in the form of spiritual acquittal rather than a physical release. Even today, two millennia later, we are still trying to understand it.  Perhaps we focus too intently on the process and lose sight of the favorable outcome.

I’m sure Joe Maddon would agree with this principle, at least when applied to baseball. Since the Cubs’ Game 7 victory Maddon has spent more time defending himself from critics of the way he managed than he has accepting the praise of fans for his leadership in their deliverance.  Even his players piled on – well, at least one player.  Aroldis Chapman – who along with Maddon might have replaced Steve Bartman in Cubs’ infamy had it not been for the tenth inning victory – said this week that his failure was Maddon’s fault. http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-aroldis-chapman-joe-maddon-postseason-20161216-story.html.   (I am not much of a Chapman fan, but in this instance I agree with him and I said so in my comments on November 3.  https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/.

Maddon defended his actions by stating that he did what he thought needed to be done in order to win and that he felt he had Chapman’s agreement with how he was used.  At least he had not received any complaint.  But isn’t that our nature, to second guess and criticize in hindsight even when we succeeded in the first place?

Who gets the credit?  Wouldn’t it have been easier if we had done it my way?  With the rise of these questions the Cubs are learning what it’s like to be expected to win – or worse, to be viewed as a dynasty in the making. (Just ask the Golden State Warriors).  It may seem a stretch to you, but I am of the opinion that Christianity would have been much better off if it had not become an approved religion in the 4th century under Emperor Constantine, and I know that it would be more palatable to many people today if had not been forced on so many reluctant converts in the centuries that followed.

Today I have difficulty engaging in meaningful discussion with my own family, let alone with colleagues or strangers, regardless of whether we start with sports or religion or politics.  The common opening line in “dialogue” in 2016 is “how can you even think that way?”  The underlying disagreements appear so fundamental that we might as well be speaking different languages.  With such a disconnect, it is not surprising (even expected?) that some would be shocked by an outcome that they personally cannot conceive of, whether we are talking politics or religion or baseball.  And that divide, more than anything, explains where we find ourselves this Christmas, 2016.

In a tribute to Marvin Miller and Bud Selig in 2012 I wrote “… I learned a good while ago in the practice of law that you are not going to succeed if you can’t even envision your opponent being right. How can you ever understand his arguments and counter them, or hope to come to an agreement to resolve them, if you don’t start by acknowledging the possibility that your opponent’s position is right and yours is not?  ‘Come now, let us reason together.’”  (Is. 1:18.) https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/love-your-enemies-part-2-marvin-miller-and-bud-selig/.

On this Christmas Day, 2016, as we approach the new year with the Cubs as World Champions and Donald Trump as president-elect, my prayer is that a world with both such expected and shocking results will somehow repeat the loving miracle of Christmas to miraculously foster greater dialogue and understanding among all peoples.

One way or the other, I have a sense that 2017 will be a momentous year (and I don’t mean in the field of cryogenics).  Having finally broken the curse, the Cubs may repeat their feat of 1907-08 and win back-to-back World Series.  Donald Trump may bring about the apocalypse or prove to be a competent president. (H eas not my candidate but, as JP says in  the movie Angels in the Outfield, “hey, it could happen.”  And, of course, Jesus may come again.  That will happen, we just don’t know when.  Perhaps the historic events of 2016 were just the precursor to 2017’s main event.  That would, again, be expected yet shocking.

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