An Emotional Advent 4: Picking Teams

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I will be blogging through the emotions of the Christmas story this holiday season (see part 1). This post will examine the excitement of some shepherds from Luke 2:8-20:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Professional sports are the most elevated and celebrated version of “picking teams” in existence. Most of us have some personal experience with picking, or being picked for, a team. It could have been kickball or playing tag at recess or tryouts for a travel team. The most athletic (or most popular) get picked first, the average participants get picked next, and then the weakest players get picked last (or not at all).

When it comes to professional sports there’s a list, thanks to Forbes, of the top 100 highest-paid athletes. These are the men and women who are picked first. They’re the best, and team owners are willing to pay millions to pick have them on their teams.

A miracle occurred in Major League Baseball this past 2015 season. A group of relatively unwanted players lead their team to a World Series Championship. ESPN tweeted, The Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series because they valued players the rest of Major League Baseball didn’t, to summarize the accomplishment that caught the league by surprise.

Even though they’re still professional athletes, there are actually unwanted players who haven’t made the Forbes list.

Who aren’t picked first.

The main disconnect with this is that there are many of us who would be fine with any professional position. We wouldn’t fuss about being picked first or last, because at least we would be picked.

This measurement–picking teams–drives our lives more than we notice.

Let’s start where we are, if you aren’t a professional athlete, either you weren’t picked or you weren’t interested.

You moved on and either got accepted or rejected by a college, a romantic interest, a job, or a loan.

Some of you were the first pick, some of you were the last pick, some of you were picked in the middle, and some of you weren’t picked at all.

Put yourself back in one of those moments, the blacktop, the proposal, the interview, the mailbox. How did it feel…
to be picked first, to be picked last?
to hear, “yes,” to hear, “no,” or, to hear, “let’s just be friends”?
to get the job, or get turned down?
to get accepted to the college of your dreams, or get declined, or waitlisted?

Emotional. Anything and everything from excitement, relief, anger, jealousy, sadness, to depression.

Picking teams seems to be the way the world works–who’s in, who’s out, who’s first, who’s last, and who’s overlooked.

Does God work this way?

To be honest, yes, or so it seems. If we base it on how the different religious groups, and specifically, Christian denominations, God works just like the world. Some are in, some are out, some are loved, and some are unloved (and even hated). But this is not how the Christmas story portrays God.

It’s easy to overlook, but there is an overarching theme of inclusion throughout the advent of Christ. Everyone is welcome to participate. All ages, genders, statuses, positions, and beliefs are recipients of good news.

The first participants are people we would expect, a priest, Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth. She’s promised a child, but we soon learn that she’s barren (or he’s impotent), and they’re old. Childlessness is an abnormality for a woman in her situation. According to the ancient scriptures children are a sign of righteousness, and they didn’t have any, and it didn’t look like they were biologically capable. Was there some unrighteousness in their life or were their bodies physically limited? Either way, God saw them as prime candidates for good news. They would have a child after all, none other than John the Baptist. Imagine how they felt.

Next we meet a teen virgin girl and her upstanding and respected boyfriend. It would make sense for God to pick him, but Mary’s easy to overlook as a marginal young woman. Maybe once they’re married they’ll be worthy of God’s attention. But God’s good news defies all predictions and formulas. An unwed couple are perfect people for good news. Imagine how they felt.

After the Christ-child was born, some insight magi would follow a Hebrew prophecy and a star to find him. Tradition says there were three wisemen, but however many there were, they were non-Jew, foreign, Arabs. Author and historian, Lois Tverberg, suggests that the gifts they brought–gold, frankincense, and myrrh–imply that the men were from the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula near Sheba (modern day Yemen). But the star of good news shines over everyone. Foreign (and probably pagan) wisemen were ripe for receiving good news. Imagine how they felt.

Along their journey the magi would tell the current king of the Jews, King Herod, the good news. Even though he acted interested, he wasn’t overall thrilled. Kings threaten kings, no matter how young they are. We know how he felt, and even though he’s not open to the idea of a new king in town, God even picked him (an enemy) for good news. This is a subtle gesture to the inclusion of Advent.

The inclusion is easy to overlook with Herod, but it became undeniable when the angels started harking at some shepherds.

The scriptures explain that while a group of shepherds were watching their flocks at night an angel appeared to them with a message. Why them? What makes them worthy of knowing that a savior, the Messiah had been born? You see, the shepherds are shepherds, they’re not rabbis or lawyers or priests or doctors or temple workers (you know, God’s kinda people), they’re raggedy old shepherds. And God picks them for good news:

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

When the unpicked are picked excitement is a natural emotion. These guys didn’t get the multi-million dollar contract. They didn’t get picked for the kickball team. They didn’t get picked to join the religious elite. They just didn’t get picked, so they picked a less glamorous profession. But God picked them, and their excitement moved them to announce the massive news that God picks everyone:

Peace on earth to those on whom God’s favor rests.

This is an inclusive statement. God’s favor rests on the earth, on all people, therefore we can all have peace. A peace that comes from knowing that God is pleased with us. That God has come to us. That God is with us. That God has blessed us. That God accepts us. That God has picked us.

The good news is that Christ is for us, all of us.

Christ is for the impotent.
The barren.
The elderly.
The youth.
The masculine.
The feminine.
The widow.
The single.
The shepherd.
The wisemen.
The high-collar.
The blue-collar.
The overlooked.
The unexpected.
The religious.
The irreligious.
The stubborn.
The insincere.
The royal.
The lowly.
The foreigner.
The Arab.
The Jew.
The Gentile.
The observant.
The oblivious.
The righteous.
And the unrighteous.

God doesn’t pick sides, God picks us.

Christ is good news for everyone, or you’re telling the wrong story.

As the angels said, this really is good news of great joy–something to get excited about–for all people. We can be excited that God is not exclusive but favors everyone with great pleasure. This is good news worth spreading. Amidst all the emotions, Advent wants us to be excited.

The Advent story is good news because it insists that everyone is included by God, no matter what team you’re on.

An Advent Meditation: Everyone is included.

A Song for Reflection: Us For Them by Gungor


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