Football is the ultimate team game. It takes 11 men on each down to make a play work. This sounds like coach-speak, but it is actually gospel truth. For instance, if the quarterback drops back to throw a deep pass to the wide receiver, everyone must do their part for the play to work. If any member of the offensive line does not make their block, the quarterback does not have time to throw the pass. If the running back does not pick up the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback will be sacked. If the other wide receivers (the ones not being thrown the ball) do not run their routes, the intended receiver will be double-covered. If the quarterback does not throw the ball on target the receiver does not have a chance to catch it. If the receiver does not catch the ball, the play is a failure. Everyone must do his job for a single play to work. This makes football the ultimate team game.
Even when a play is not “about them” everyone must do their part in order for the play to work. This is different than other sports. On a baseball team, the right fielder does nothing on a routine ground ball to the short stop. On a basketball team (while a very good team game), a great player can score lots of points playing a “one-on-one” kind of game. Only in football must everyone participate in order for the play to work.
I was thinking about this today as I was reflecting on the Christmas story . . . particularly the part of Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The fact that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem was promised by God through the prophet Micah in Micah 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah. From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” In light of our analogy here, Micah 5:2 is like a play that God was calling in the “huddle” with Israel 700 years before the birth of Christ. As Israel broke the huddle though, and prepared for the play, it would take millions of people in motion to pull off this “play” for the team.
Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem. They lived in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town about 70 miles from Bethlehem. In a world without planes, trains, or automobiles, it was certainly not likely that Mary would give birth in Bethlehem. So, in order for God’s play to unfold, everyone had to do his or her part to get Mary to Bethlehem. Luke 2:1 tells us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census to be taken. In order for all the people who lived in the Roman Empire to be counted, Caesar wanted everyone to travel to their ancestral home. While Caesar did not do this intending to see the Messiah born in the proper town, God used Caesar’s decree to properly execute His play. Imagine the scene . . . in order to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (their ancestral home) at the time of Jesus birth, the decree for the census had to be issued at just the right time and would mandate that 4.2 million people would travel to their home towns to be counted. (4.2 million is the count Caesar took from this census).
Think about that for a moment. 4.2 million people probably wondered why they were traveling . . . why they needed to be counted. Even though the “ball” was not coming to them, they were playing an important part in the unfolding of God’s play.
I say this today, because last night was the second Sunday night of advent. The second candle in the advent wreath is called the “Bethlehem Candle” and looks to this particular prophecy of Jesus birth. As I ponder the significance of the 4.2 million people moving around the Mediterranean in response to Caesar’s decree, I am reminded that at times the events of my life will unfold in ways that have me playing a significant part in God’s plan, but will not feature me “getting the ball.” We sometimes ask questions like “Why do I have this job?” “What was that all about?” “What was the point of that relationship/conversation/etc.?” Usually when we ask these questions we ask them because we assume that we will be featured in the “play.” In reality, we are always playing a part in God’s purposes, though sometimes we are not the ones getting the “ball.” From Bethlehem we see that the unfolding of God’s will is ultimately a team experience.