In the summer of 1992, I finally got my “shot” in one of the last baseball games I ever played.
Our team held a marginal lead entering the final inning. As the “home” team our opponents got the final at-bat. But our pitcher was tired and unable to finish the game. Though rarely called upon to pitch, I received the nod to head to the mound. Honestly, it was a desperation move by the head coach, my dad. Our ace pitcher couldn’t make the game, and my dad’s options were limited.
I stepped to the mound in the bottom of the final inning as calmly as I could. But inside my stomach turned to knots. The weight of the entire game rested firmly on my shoulders.
I’m proud to say that I pitched a hitless inning for my team. Unfortunately, the other team didn’t need any hits. I don’t remember if we recorded a single out. But I do know that I walked the bases loaded and then walked in the winning run.
In a sport like baseball, those clutch moments require someone to step in and save the day. A hero who will accomplish a miraculous feat, usually because plan A didn’t pan out or the team got outplayed by the opposition.
Too often, we can place God’s plan for saving his people in the same category as sports. Adam failed in the garden, humanity couldn’t hack it from that point on, and so now it’s time to bring in the relief pitcher – Jesus.
At Christmas, though, we don’t celebrate the arrival of God’s plan B. Jesus didn’t trot out of Heaven’s bullpen to do what Adam, the starting pitcher, couldn’t do.
The baby born in the manger was always God’s plan A.
Even though my parents lavished me with great gifts, there were no surprises, nothing to anticipate – no joy.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, I prowled my house and scoured the closets like an afternoon burglar in search of my gifts until I found every single one.
I would visit them every now and then to behold their majesty. But when Christmas morning arrived, my excitement and their glory had faded. All that remained was stuff in boxes wrapped in paper. I faked my reactions the best I could, pretending like it was the first time I had seen my presents. But I had robbed myself of joy, and I had robbed my parents of true gratitude.
I walked away from the Christmas tree disappointed that morning. Not in my presents because I received everything I desired. But in my experience because I got everything I deserved. My 14-year-old heart lusted after things and their promises of joy. I got one and missed the other. But that’s always the case when we long for the wrong things.
Christmas is supposed to be about the joy of anticipation and delayed gratification. During Advent I think we’re meant to experience a small taste of what people long ago and for long ages experienced – the yearning, the anticipation, the hope of a coming Savior.
Presents, decorations, carols, lights, parties, good food, and family gatherings – all those things direct our attention to the one Person we anticipate and celebrate at Christmas – our one, true hope of joy.
I still think about Christmas 1990. That’s the year I tried to find joy in a closet. But it wasn’t there.