It’s been a chaotic, tumultuous year of sport hasn’t it?
Paused at both elite and grassroots levels in the first lockdown, bio bubbles and matches without fans then became the norm for some. For others, sport has been on a permanent break. For professionals this may have meant catastrophic loss of income, sponsorship and opportunities to progress in your career. Tokyo 2020 came and went without taking place, nearly everything else was postponed, putting sportspeople in a permanent sense of limbo, especially if it is their career.
At the club level, some sports found themselves Covid secure quickly, cricket being one. For others, such as rugby, it’s been as if their sport has been indefinitely postponed. Saturday rolls on week on week, with no sign of scrum and penalties taking place any time soon.
This year has also marked a year when sport has continued to find its voice in issues of social justice. Lockdown raised right and real questions around how we support athletes in their mental health. It’s been encouraging to see this conversation getting more airtime than ever before. For us at Christians in Sport this led to conversations with many, including Sky Sports and The Times, and the production of of a new in depth discussion, More Than Sport. That show also touched on the topic of racism in sport, brought to the forefront of our conversations by incidents in America, the taking of the knee in elite sport and an outstanding hour of television from Sky Sports Cricket as they looked to bring this important problem to the forefront of their coverage.
It’s been some year in sport, even if the actual sport has been so very different to usual. It’s been a year full of bleak news, bad news, real grief in places.
So as we approach Christmas, what can we be reminded and challenged with?
Let’s look at the angels, as they spoke to the shepherds 2000 years ago, in a region of the world also wracked with significant political and social issues and hear their message of good news.
As we’ve listed all that’s gone on this year, and as the inevitable 2020 Year Reviews roll round in the papers, we may find it easy to forget what good news is! 2020 has been full of news, but not much of it has been good.
We live in a bleak world. The global pandemic, Brexit uncertainty and the racial discord seen this year are just three of the main issues we read about and deal with day-to-day.
All of these have deep, long-lasting effects as well. They will have, and continue to, affect our mental health, they have led to loneliness and isolation and financial struggles. And possibly more than any other year, we have seen up close, the outcome of death.
It wasn’t vastly different in first century Palestine - there was political unrest, racial tension and a nation under real oppression. Different issues but ones with similar deep lasting effects.
It was here that we are told Mary and Joseph - like us frantically trying to sort out plans - as they came for a census, gave birth to a baby boy. It doesn’t sound like news really does it? Not in comparison to all that’s gone on this year. You can’t imagine #BabyBorn trending on Twitter in 2020 when 385,000 are born every day!
But this story is so very different. Bizarrely, it wasn’t politicians or monarchs, or journalists or influencers who heard this news first - it was a group of shepherds.
“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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:8-10
The angels declared they had good news. What was this news? It was that a baby had been born. A baby had miraculously been born of a virgin and his identity was absolutely crucial.
Why was this good news? Because they said it would cause great joy.
The identity of this baby was utterly key back then, and it's crucial for us now, as we come to the end of a long year.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11
This year has been so heavy at times that maybe you haven’t known where to turn. Here we are told that Jesus is not irrelevant to us, not just someone we dock in with once a year alongside Santa and his reindeer. No! We are told that this baby was sent to save us. The angels declared that a saviour had been born, a rescuer had been born.
We keep him at arms length though because we don’t know we need saving, or we don’t want to admit that we do. But the Bible tells us we need rescuing. That the only place for us to turn in the midst of life as we know it is Jesus.
Maybe in this year of greater self reflection you’ve realised a few home truths about yourself. For many, as things have been taken out of hands, it’s been a realisation that we are truly not in control. And that has been painful to deal with hasn’t it? Realising that we are not the centre of the universe, that everything doesn’t happen at our bidding. As games were cancelled, training brought indoors onto cycle machines and Joe Wicks fitness sessions, we can’t help but realise that this world doesn’t revolve around us.
This has been a struggle for us to get our heads around because naturally our hearts are so skewed towards living exactly how we want, towards making ourselves the centre of the story. The Bible says that’s not how we were made to live and that is wrong. We were made to be in relationship with the one who created us and yet have rejected his rule in our lives. The punishment for that is death - we were not created to die, not created to be mortal. Maybe this year has brought home the un-naturalness of death to us as we’ve seen it up close - the pain and the sorrow of it.
Jesus was sent as a saviour. To save us from death. How? Through dying in the place of sinful men and women, to take the punishment that rejecting God deserves. Jesus was born to rescue, born to die. This is what brings us great joy.
Great joy that we no longer need to face the judgement of God.
Great joy that we can put our trust in Jesus to take the punishment we deserve. Great joy that we can be made right with God now. Great joy that death is not the final word and we can have eternal life with him forever.
The good news of Christmas brings great, lasting, permanent joy. A joy which is stable in the changing circumstances of life. When sport, a key a part of our life has been changed this year, removed in many cases, those who have trusted in Jesus have been able to still have joy.
For many sportspeople this year has been really tough and the reality is that in the midst of the difficulties, God doesn’t tell us to get on with it, Jesus’ arrival at Christmas tells instead that he gets involved in the mess and pain of our lives.
Trusting in Jesus doesn’t mean that he sorts out all the difficulties of this life now but it does mean that he’s with you in it and he will ultimately bring you home to be with him. This is what leads to lasting joy.
So this Christmas, if you trust in Christ, will you be reminded of the big picture, of the good news that is the coming of Jesus to save? And if you don’t yet follow Jesus, will you put your trust in him? This good news, of great joy is for all people - no matter who you are or what you’ve done - this news is for you. Trust in him and experience lasting, permanent joy, a God and saviour to be with you with whatever 2021 might bring.
Jonny plays hockey for Bicester Hockey Club and is one of the leaders at Town Church Bicester.
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