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Dear Christians in Sport,
I’m a professional rugby player and I’m constantly playing throughout the Christmas period. This means I have little time to spend with family or reflect on Christmas. What can I do to celebrate the wonder of Christmas whilst in the midst of one of the busiest parts of my season?
Christmas Eve and the alarm goes off at 6:30 am. Up you get, breakfast to be eaten, high protein, carbs and a coffee. You read your Bible and pray for the day ahead. It feels like any other training day.
As you leave the house, messages from family roll in with holiday plans and festive pictures of trees and food prep. But, you know you have a job to do, one you love and are thankful for.
Yet, it’s hard not to close yourself off, or to feel lost. It feels like the world has a chance to stop but you have to perform because games are coming thick and fast.
But what is the real wonder of Christmas? Is it Family, food, or presents?
If you’re a Christian, you know the right answer to this question – No.
The birth of Jesus is the true wonder of Christmas. So, how can you give yourself time to reflect on this during an intense playing or training schedule?
Let’s look at the story of Jesus’ birth, and what it has to say to players and athletes for whom Christmas is not a period of rest.
The Shepherds and then sometime later the Magi were among the first to meet Jesus after his birth, they were not on holiday, nor spending time with family, though these are good things!
The shepherds were hard at work in the fields near Bethlehem tending their flocks at night (Luke 2:8). This was a wild and dangerous environment. Shepherds also occupied a lowly position, viewed as outcasts, yet, in Luke 2:11 we read that they were first to hear:
‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’
How did they respond to this news? They didn’t wait for a convenient time or even daylight! No, we see they said to each other: ‘let’s see these things for ourselves’ (Luke 2:15) and hurried off to find the baby (Luke 2:16). Even in the most dangerous time for their flocks of sheep they made time for Jesus.
In Matthew’s account, we see the Magi, likely hundreds of miles from home, exploring a foreign land and interpreting a star! We don’t know how long they’d been traveling when they found Jesus, but it would have been a journey that tested them physically and mentally.
So, how did both the magi and the shepherds respond when they met Jesus?
In Luke 2:20 we read:
'The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.'
We see the Magi respond in much the same way in Matthew 2:11. Societally and culturally on different ends of the spectrum but their response was the same.
They saw Jesus and they responded in worship.
The true wonder of Christmas is really about the person of Jesus. The gracious gift of God entering the world fully human and yet fully God, the only one who could rescue humanity.
Today, all of us can respond to this good news in worship, whether we’re working or resting.
As top sportspeople, an intense Christmas period is an opportunity to respond in praise and worship.
Like the shepherds and the magi, you have a God-given vocation, where you are called to use your body as worship to God. Like all those who respond to Jesus in praise and worship, you have a secure identity, that doesn’t depend on your performance in sport or in life.
The biblical accounts of the first nativity show how both the shepherds and magi dropped everything to see Jesus, and how wonder at meeting Him lead both to worship.
How will you respond in worship as you play and train during this intense period?
Even the busiest Christmas periods for professional athletes require rest and recovery. So, how can you make time to rest in the wonder of the Christmas story?
Think carefully and prayerfully about your approach so you don’t forget this true wonder.
Peter was a professional rugby player for a few top-level clubs, finishing his career at Ulster RFC. He is now a member of our elite team in the world of professional rugby, as well as being part of the international team. Pete lives in Belfast with his wife Hannah and is a member of Village East Church.
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