Day 17: Comfort, Comfort, O My Fourth Best Team in the World

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from God’s hand
double for all her sins.

-Isaiah 40:1-2

What is true today is that by 4pm Eastern Standard Time–4:50pm at the latest–one nation will be elated and one will be in tears. 

We love this game because there is a loser. And we care about the loser because they are sad, because grown men cry, because after carrying the entire tournament in their bodies, it collapses upon them. US soccer star Megan Rapinoe describes professional football as an extension of the entertainment industry, and it is true, we are entertained by this sadness. Sometimes we revel in it; sometimes we are crushed by it. If the loser shrugged and hugged the winner and said, “well, it’s just a game, I’m still in the top 10% of global earners, how bad can my life be?” we would be disappointed.

Because we live in a culture that hushes sadness behind closed doors, there is something cathartic in the way the cameras pan across the high-definition tears of the losers. Football is a container for feeling the full range of human emotions, publicly, without judgment. 

Comfort, comfort. When England lost to France after Harry Kane missed his second penalty kick, there was plenty of derision directed at Harry Kane. But there was also a rush to comfort: of course it wasn’t Kane’s fault, we all would have picked him to take the penalty.

When Marquinos’ shot bounced off the post and collapsed Brazil’s hope for a World Cup run, it was crushing. How painful to have the post–not even the goalkeeper, the post!–have the final word on your hopes. A shoot out can make any team sympathetic. 

The World Cup allows us to practice grief and to practice comfort. 99% of competitors end up losers. Comfort, comfort. The beauty of this passage is that the prophet calls us not to deny pain, but accompany it. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem”–honor the sorrow of this moment. This is the end of the hard service, the beginning of transformation. Not the erasure of sorrow, but the long, slow transformation of it, even it takes from Isaiah all the way Luke, almost a quarter of the Bible. Comfort, comfort. We’ve got four long years just for comforting.

A photo of Harry Kane on the sub bench, mouth slightly open, eyes wide, as if something very concerning is happening in front of him.
Don’t you feel a little bad for the guy? Just a little? (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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