In the Christian faith, there is an annual tradition around the holiday season. We call this Advent. While it is a celebration and remembrance of the anticipation leading up to the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, the word “advent” is actually from a Latin word meaning “coming.” So on top of the “coming” excitement of the birth of Jesus, we also look forward to the second coming of Christ. We traditionally do this in four ways, each celebrated in the four weeks prior to December 25. The four themes that are used vary from church to church or tradition to tradition, but I like the way our church celebrates the Advent season. For the first week of Advent, we celebrate hope. From there, we move to peace, joy, and love.
As the interest level in all four Philly sports teams heats up this holiday season, let us not forget these four powerful themes of Advent. In that vein, I will apply these four themes to each of the four major professional sports teams in Philadelphia.
When I think of Philly sports and this idea of hope, the natural connection for me is the Sixers. A half a decade ago, many of us got behind a plan to be as bad as possible for years. Not only did we accept this as a necessary evil, we embraced it. It was The Process. And it was ours. We trusted it. We still do to this day. Why? Because of the HOPE it represents.
The 76ers could have continued wading in mediocrity, and the majority probably would have been happy. We may have even experienced peace and occasional joy for that perennial 6-8 seed playoff team. But love? Meh. Hope? Definitely not. Sam Hinkie recognized this and stepped out on a limb for the sole purpose of giving a city hope. Mission accomplished.
As we sit here at the end of 2018, we get the joy of watching one of the best big men in the game, one of the best young point guards in the game, and one of the best two-way clutch players in the game suit up for our Sixers night in and night out. They’re young, they’re talented, and there is overwhelming reason for hope. In the darkness, the hope of The Process shown bright. That light has only gotten brighter for me.
Our second theme of Advent is peace. While peace may not be the first adjective that comes to mind when I think of the Flyers, it certainly applies more than any others. It’s likely the nature of hockey in America, but I am just not as emotionally invested in this team as I am in any of the others. And that comment is coming from a former season ticket holder. I love the Flyers – but they’re just…the Flyers.
The more things change for this city’s hockey team, the more they stay the same. Do I want Lord Stanley’s Cup to make its home in Philadelphia again sometime? Of course. But I have no hope of that anytime soon. But they’re also not dreadful to watch. They just…are. Basically, in my mind, the Flyers just exist. They’ve got some good players, enough to stay competitive each season, but I never have to get emotionally invested in any championship expectations.
Ultimately, I’ve experienced true peace in any situation only through my relationship with Jesus. Outside of that, however, peace is essentially achieved by met expectations. For the Flyers, they meet my expectations pretty much every season (even if those expectations may not be as high as they ought to be). For that, I can honestly say that the Flyers generally bring me peace. I know I can count on them to have a good time watching a fun sport, while not subjecting myself to any potential disappointment of underachieving.
Enter the Phillies. Baseball was my first love. My dad was a college pitcher, passed on his love of the game to me, and I’ve followed and played ever since. While basketball, hockey, and football games are patently more exciting, a baseball game still brings me the most joy. Whether I’m on the field (I retired to slow-pitch softball years ago, but it’s close enough) or enjoying a ballpark frank from the stands, when I’m at a baseball game, I’m in my happy place.
The Phillies are a part of that. The glory years of 2007-12 brought with them such joy. For the rest of my life, I will remember the many trips to Citizens Bank Park with my fellow season-ticket holder, PFO contributor, and best friend Max. Sure, it’s been a rough few years since then, but that hasn’t extinguished the joy. Even during these down years, the family atmosphere of a Phillies game allows for such enjoyment, whether it’s bringing my wife and sons to a game or going back with my parents.
On top of that, the Hot Stove is heating up. Of course, nothing tops the NBA Free Agency period, but hearing that Philadelphia is back in the thick of the conversation as an MLB free agent destination brings some added joy this Christmas season. Can you imagine the joy of a Segura, Machado, and Harper package under the Christmas tree? Yes please. Joy to the world…or at least Philly.
We’ve reached our fourth and final theme of Advent and our fourth and final major professional Philly sports team. Yes, the Eagles have had a generally frustrating follow-up season to their Super Bowl run last year. But in no way does that wipe out what the core of this team did less than 12 months ago. I have never loved a professional sports team as much as I love these Birds (especially last year, but carried over to this season as well).
Loving a team that brought this championship-hungry city its first Super Bowl ring probably seems obvious. To be honest, however, that’s only a part of the love I feel for this team. As is obvious by this point, my faith is extremely important to me – one of the few things (along with family) more important in my life than sports. You are likely also aware of the importance of faith to a large portion of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Whether it’s Carson Wentz and his AO1 Foundation (Audience of One, referring to his desire to play for the approval of only one man – his personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ) or Zach Ertz and his Ertz Family Foundation (whose mission is to spread the love of Jesus to all their surrounding communities) or any of the other large number of outspoken followers of Christ on the team, this team’s bond by their faith was one of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed. It didn’t just stop with tweeting Bible verses or huddling together for pre- or post-game prayers either. These guys lived their faith. They lived their love for God and for others. And ultimately, that is what I fell in love with regarding this team.
“We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:18-19
My wife and I started the @ertzfamilyfoundation with one goal in mind, to spread the love we feel from Jesus to all of our surrounding communities! So excited to be able to wear these cleats tonight for our game! pic.twitter.com/DBVBgPcUpj
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) December 3, 2018
Of course, having an MVP caliber quarterback, an extremely ballsy head coach, and a never-die attitude didn’t hurt. The way this team consistently overcame injuries and other setbacks was like nothing I’ve ever seen. I mean, guys, they beat the Evil Empire dynasty of this era and arguably the greatest QB of all time as a prohibitive underdog…with their backup QB. Remarkable. Enjoyable. Loveable.
In the end, all of these Philly sports teams bring me all four of these experiences at times. But some specialize in areas that others may be lacking. We’re Philly. We’re known for our passion. Let us never lose the hope, peace, joy, and love we feel for our sports teams in this city. And as we consider that this holiday season, may we also be reminded of the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus Christ too. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may 2019 bring us all blessings of championships – or at least more hope, peace, joy, and love.