This weekend Lionel Messi finally won a World Cup. Following Argentina’s win over France on Sunday, much of the talk has been how Messi can now be considered one of the greatest footballers (soccer players) of all time.
For some, the conversation couldn’t start until he was on a team that won the Cup. Despite all of his other accomplishments, which, according to Wikipedia, already included:
seven Ballon d’Or awards, the most for any football player, as well as the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year and 2019 The Best FIFA Men’s Player. Messi holds the record for most goals in La Liga (474), the Supercopa de España (14), the UEFA Super Cup (3) and is the player with the most official recorded assists in football history (350). He has scored 793 goals for club and country throughout his professional career and is also the first player in history to win five and six European Golden Shoes.Wikipedia
All of that is nice, but to be considered the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) Messi had to win the biggest game. Like they say, “To be the best, you have to beat the best.” That’s what the greats do.
We don’t do that
I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about our Christian identity. In some ways, we set it up like the football analyst. Christians, like the GOATs, often identify themselves and one another through separation. We do certain things and don’t do others (like have a bad game in the World Cup final).
This came up recently in a conversation about Santa Claus. A friend asked what I thought because someone had told them, “We didn’t do Santa growing up because we’re Christians.”
As a Santa lover and a Christian, I don’t get it.
Back in October, two workers in a local guitar shop were having a conversation about Halloween. I wasn’t eavesdropping. They were talking across the store about how some Christian friends told one he shouldn’t participate in Halloween. It bothered him.
As a Halloween tolerator and a Christian, I don’t get that either.
Certainly Christians should not be known as anti-celebration.
While these anti positions are often supported with biblical interpretation, it’s weak at best. Saint Nicholas was a real bishop of the Church and Halloween or All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saints Day.
Identity by separation
Identity appears to be the real attraction of these anti positions. They allow us to define who we are in contrast with who they are.
I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard (but pray haven’t preached) about the differences between us in the church and them out in the world.
To be considered a GOAT, Messi had to separate himself from the rest of players with a World Cup victory, but that is no way to define what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Emmanuel: God with us all
The problem is that separation is the opposite of the message of Christmas. The idea of God incarnate in an infant born to a poor couple of little status (Mary & Joseph), reminds us of God’s love for us all. The angels appearing to shepherds, the magi following the star, the prophets at the Temple, the flight to Egypt, and the move to Nazareth are all reminders of God coming among humanity, like yeast in a lump of dough (Matthew 13:33).
In other words, a model of Christianity need not be one that separates itself from others. Christians instead are invited to eat with outcasts, touch “untouchables,” and love those who society wants to label as “wrong.”
Jesus who did all of the above, taught that we are to be light in a dark world and salt that permeates the body (Matt 5).
We don’t become the best by separating ourselves from the pack. We’re instead loved by the grace of God and invited to participate in the work of God among God’s people.
Let’s enter in and celebrate!