Christmas Eve, 2017
“And the Astros are the 2017 World Series Champions!”
This was a factual understatement by Astros radio announcer Robert Ford. For thousands of Houstonians swamped by the flood waters rising out of Buffalo Bayou, Ford’s call of an unprecedented (although not wholly unexpected) sporting outcome brought joyous relief from the catastrophic and tragic events of only a few weeks before.
For millions more Astros fans in the wider Texas area (like my family in San Antonio) and those in many other parts of the country, Ford was reporting on a franchise’s triumph over several metaphoric post-season catastrophes during its first 55 seasons. Although only half as enduring as the famous one broken by the Cubs last year, the sometimes inexplicable events thwarting the Astros teams before 2017 had suggested a curse of some sort. But all that is over now and there is joy in Harris County’s version of Mudville.
Joy is an emotion too seldom felt in this world. Most of us feel happy now and then, and perhaps some of us are well-adjusted enough to laugh daily, but seriously, when was the last time you felt like the guys in this picture?
This moment is why we love sports so much. It can bring us such joy. But of course it comes at great cost – many years of anticipation and disappointment – and often the experience is fleeting. For most of us, joy even when it comes is not long-enduring and rarely followed by peace.
I am reminded of this on Christmas Eve as Christians commemorate another unprecedented (“Behold a virgin shall be with child.” Is. 7:14) but not unexpected (“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me.” Deut. 18:15) event. The glorious fulfillment of this long-awaited prophecy, undoing Adam’s curse that had lasted for millennia (“Cursed is the ground because of you.” Gen. 3:17), was proclaimed to shepherds but meant for everyone, then and now:
“For behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10).
This news was accompanied by a heavenly wish for “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14). Whatever faith you may have, that is a desire that we can all share and certainly the concept comes to mind most often at this time of year. Dickens may have said it best:
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around…as a good time: a kind, forgiving charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely….” (“A Christmas Carol,” page 19 in my copy.)
However, this feeling also arises in times of trial, when people do extraordinary things for others who they have never met. Sports is also, in itself and through those who play, a vehicle for healing.
Whatever your circumstances, my wish for you this Christmas Eve is that you experience the joy of this season (Christmas, not baseball) and that it surpasses even the excitement reflected on Alex Bregman’s face following his walk-off hit in in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the World Series. Few of us (none?) will ever have that particular miraculous experience, but we all experience many blessings that we forget to savor and which, if recognized, could bring us true joy and a lasting peace. Certainly that is the message of the angels we remember this night concerning the Prince of Peace. (Jn. 3:16; 14:27-29).
Peace on Earth. Goodwill to Men.