Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Unexpected Joy of Sports

A co-worker shared that the reason she loves the Advent season is because it is a holy time that reminds us that "anything is possible." Indeed, God became flesh and dwelt among us. That the Prince of Peace would not come in a rapture, but in the form of a lowly child is preposterous. Born in a manger of all places, the King of Kings brought light in world of darkness. And so it is...or rather, so He is—Emmanuel—God with us. In response, we proclaim: Joy to the World!

One aspect I love about joy is that it is often quite unexpected. The Christmas story affirms this notion. The first to recognize the Nativity of the Lord were the shepherds—lowly, everyday people. And nowhere is joy more unexpected than in sports. Athletic contests and pursuits, games and teams provide a rich seedbed for joy—unexpected, unsuspecting, simple and complicated. 
Two recent examples: On Sunday December 15 Eagles fans in Philadelphia approached Lincoln Financial Field thinking they would likely get a good dusting of snow and a better football game. One out of two isn't bad. Ashley Fox from ESPN.com reports 
Despite a weather forecast that called for a mere dusting, the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles played in a surprise blizzard Sunday. Snow started falling about 90 minutes before kickoff, and it didn't relent until early in the fourth quarter. 
The field was covered before kickoff. The grounds crew could not keep up. They shoveled the yard lines and goal lines at every opportunity during the game but opted not to plow at halftime. There was just too much snow and not enough time or places to put it. The storm won. In all, eight inches fell in Lincoln Financial Field during the Eagles' 34-20 win. 
Imagine football in a snow globe.
Snow globes are magical; so is football in a snowstorm.

During my freshman year at Notre Dame, the Irish played Penn State at home. The final game of the season, the "Snow Bowl" is among the favorites of many ND students. 
New to snow, let alone a football game in it, I remember the energy that filled the stadium. The snow was  beginning to flurry and with it, we cast our fate to the wind. I threw up my mittened hands and noticed everyone around me taking delight in mother nature. 
Birds Faithful. Awesome.
Eagles' fan had a winter wonderland. To watch a team that is leading the league, come back from behind to win by 14 points in the downpour of snow? Unexpected joy, pure joy. 

Three days later, I was in a nice bar (Article III) after a formal Christmas dinner celebration (at the Olympic Club, downtown). The Warriors vs. Dallas Mavericks game was featured on multiple television screen without sound (my pet peeve!). Trailing by 18 points in the fourth quarter, I occasionally looked up to see how the damage might unfold...how much time was left...if we could close the gap. 
THE Splash Brother...always wet.
Instead, I saw Steph Curry instigate a Warriors shooting spree. Fans in the bar took notice as well and became quite vocal. It was a striking contrast. No screeching of high tops on the hardwood, no sound from Roaracle, not even any rally music, but everyone around me started turning in up. Fists were pumping, high fives were extended, I was smiling. More cheering, shouting and ultimately a celebration among strangers as Curry nailed a 3-point shot with 1.7 seconds left to go in the game. Joy, pure joy. Unexpected. 

This week is a wonderful time to reflect on joy as This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday. Perhaps you noticed the rose-colored vestments and/or the lighting of the one rose-colored candle.  The Church calls us to rejoice. Gaudete in Domino semper or Rejoice in the Lord alwaysthe first words of the opening antiphon. We rejoice because Christmas is nigh. The 40 days of Advent, a penitential season, is coming to a close. We need a visual and intentional reminder that we are almost there. 

Fortunately sports offers many examples of unexpected joy. It's why we return to the yard, play the game, listen on the radio. I also think it's a convincing reason to be and remain a Christian. As written by a Dominican at my parish, Fr. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P. says
The Child Jesus will be among us in a matter of days. As we prepare for his coming, we admittedly have some expectations: the evergreen tree; the lights; the cookies; the carols.  
On Gaudete Sunday, we stand in joyful expectation. We find ourselves wondering how the Child Jesus will come to us. God will most likely not come in the way that we would like or expect. He will most likely not show up in a thundercloud, or in your living room, or knock on your door and ask if there is an extra seat at the dinner table. 
He will come to you in the silence of your heart, unexpectedly, through your friends, your family, or even through a prosaic conversation. He will speak through a random commercial on television, an overheard conversation, or even while shopping for presents. He will speak to your heart in ways unexpected. 
Seek the Child Christ. Expect that He yearns for your presence. Expect that He will appear in your life in unexpected, prosaic ways. Expect to witness the unpredictable God.
I am reminded during this holy season, that anything is possible. This is why we love sports. This is a reason to love the season of Advent.

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