In the Fields by Night: Daily Advent Devotions for a World Cup Season

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by the Word, and without it not one thing came into being….

-John 1:1-3 (NRSV, modified for nongendered pronouns)

Anyone who has been following the news for even a moment of the last decade, and happens to be watching the largest sporting event on the globe, begins with a disclaimer: “Well, FIFA can eat a dick, but I’m here for the beautiful game.”

More or less, but not necessarily, in those words. It’s a strange collision of events that the World Cup falls over the Christian season of Advent. As I prepare for the birth of Christ this year, I have never felt closer to the world in which Christ was born. A world in which we are all either sell outs or captives of the Empire which claims global loyalty and dominance. That is to say, I have never found a better metaphor for the Roman Empire than the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

But FIFA is not just a parallel for the government and culture that attempted and finally executed the murder of God’s Son. FIFA is also a direct descendant of the secularized, patronizing, self-aggrandizing form of the European church that formulated the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. Perhaps a milder form, but nonetheless a new force for justifying European economic and spiritual dominance. And so FIFA is also an apt metaphor for the modern institutional church, the necessary evil that we tolerate—or don’t—in search of a spiritual home.

In the beginning was the Word. A Word that preceded institutions and corruption and colonialism. In the beginning was the beautiful game. Like many, I fell in love with soccer as a kid who fell into sync with the rhythms of the ball, the players, and the satisfying whirr of a goal. I found something divine which I still believe lives somewhere within the institution.

A friend said recently that soccer is a religion, and he didn’t mean it kindly. He meant soccer fans treat the World Cup as though there can still be salvation in an institution that disregards humanity—we insist our paltry efforts to reform it justify our participation in it. I am guilty as charged.

This is why I am creating a daily devotional series for this Advent. As a former pastor who was shredded and burned out by the institution of church. As someone who returns to the pitch every week in search of a divine spark. As a person who stands in the fields at night and hears angels but is uncertain what they mean.

This Advent, I am searching for the Christ child who will be destroyed by the Empire. I am searching for ways to live faithfully as someone who has not yet been destroyed by the Empire. Join me through this World Cup and Advent for reflections on faith, hypocrisy, compromise, and—always—hope.

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1834, with apologies to Thomas Cole.

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