For some, this post will make perfect sense. To many others, it will border on sacrilege. No offense is meant, but I offer a personal analogy for the spirit of anticipation that should be connected to Advent, but is often missing. We are left with a sweet, clean, happy story of Christ’s coming to earth in the form of a human infant, but this robs the story of the visceral emotional impact it ought to have. So, what is my analogy for the birth of the Messiah? Tonight I am attending my very first ever Packer’s game at Lambeau Field.
If you are not from Wisconsin, the whole Packer’s phenomenon makes little sense. The closest experience I perceive is the way some ardent fans feel about their college teams. College football is not simply a sport, but a sub-culture. Football is not something played or viewed, it is lived. Fist-fights break out over simple disagreements about teams, coaches, players, plays, referee calls, concessions served, or wearing the wrong colors. People rearrange their lives around the football schedule. They schedule vacations, celebrations and surgeries around home games. The pull the blinds, turn off the phone, and shroud the house in darkness when their team loses. Football is life or death.
Envision, if you will, this commitment to team that covers an entire state. Drive into almost any community and you will find a “Packers Pub” or “Bart’s Bar and Grille” (named after Bart Starr — a player retired almost forty years). There are businesses that close on Vince Lombardi’s birthday (June 11) — the famous coach and essentially saint of the Packers pantheon. The Green Bay Packers are unique in that they are owned by the fans, and there is deep pride and respect for this shared ownership. The Packers have sold out their last 389 home games. Lambeau Field feels a bit like Vatican City to Green bay’s Rome. It is a Holy Land unto itself. Football fans around the world have a game at Lambeau Field on their ‘bucket list” — those things one must do before one kicks the bucket.
What it feels like to get to go to a Packers game is a keen reminder of what Advent should really be all about. I have been a football fan for almost 50 years. I watched my first Super Bowl in 1967 when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs. When Cincinnati got its franchise in 1968, I shifted my allegiance there — a questionable decision to anyone who knows about the Cincinnati Bengals (similar to being a Cubs fan…). My aunt Ruth and uncle Gene were Wisconsinites and lifelong Packers fans, so I grew up rooting for the Packers in the NFC and Bengals in the AFC. I have decided that the odds of them ever meeting in the Super Bowl are about 2 billion to 1…
Preparing for this game, I have been surprised and amused at how excited I am. I feel giddy, like a kid. I bounce in my seat. I find that I am a bit nervous — I don’t know why. I feel awe — I mean, this is Lambeau Field! It makes me realize that I buy into the whole mythos and magic of Packerdom. Moving to Wisconsin and “becoming” a Packer’s fan is easy — and it is pretty much expected. I am PROUD of MY team. Somehow, I have personalized this — taking credit for things I have absolutely nothing to do with. This is something I have wanted to do for years, so it takes on the qualities of a “dream come true.”
When we speak of the Advent of Jesus the Christ in modern Western culture, we do so in reserved, yet pleasant tones. Few of us live in situations from which we have little hope to escape. Few of us live in fear of losing even the very little we have. Few of us live under a shadow of hand-to-mouth poverty in perpetual hunger and want. Sadly, too many in our world do live under the burden of being disrespected, dismissed and ignored, but those with privilege and position all too often take it for granted. Christmas is no longer a dream come true, but an annual celebration that we enjoy, then put away until next time. To get excited about Christmas (for spiritual and affective reasons, not fun and gifts) is rare and unknown to many. To remember that it is a paradigmatic turning point event is difficult. Oh, yes, it does take over our lives for a few weeks, but as a hurdle to clear, not a new beginning.
The Packers game has been a gift to me — for it reminds me what it feels like to experience something deep down, at a visceral and trans-rational level. I am hopeful that I can shift the sense of thrill and wonder; awe and giddy excitement from something as silly and mundane as a football game to something essential and eternal.
Morning after addendum: The night was as special and magical as one would imagine, though not without its trials. We parked about 3/4 of a mile away (at Bethany UMC) and were given a ride to about a block away from Lambeau Field. We stood in line for 45 minutes, to be turned away because my wife, Barbara’s purse was too big. So we trudged back to the church, deposited her purse, and caught another ride to the stadium. Under the lights, it felt like being in a snow globe — a wet, cold snow globe. The crowd was high-spirited (rowdy), welcoming and energized. Loose-knit, friendly community emerged almost instantly. Well over 70,000 referee’s filled the stadium, calling every play, attempting to correct every mistake on the field. We sat with Jason Mahnke and his dad, Bill. Not knowing ahead of time who we would be sitting with, it was a real treat to get to sit with one of my favorite colleagues and friend ( and his father, too). Almost as soon as it started, it was over (even though we headed out a little before the official end, due to my back. Bleachers are not my friends.
The experience was all I hoped it could be, fulfilling both anticipation and expectation. It was fun to get so excited about something so simple. It crossed my mind more than once that it would be great to see such energy, excitement and engagement in our churches as witnessed at Lambeau Field. Maybe it is time we gave people something to stand up and cheer about, or at least reminded them that they already have something to shout from the housetops.