After the Magi had heard King Herod, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.-Matthew 2:9-10
Confession: I am not expecting to enjoy the World Cup final. I am planning to watch it, but I expect to gain very little joy from it, because I watch with all the tension and expectation of someone who has assigned enormous significance to a moment that is unlikely to rise to the occasion. In my own metaphors, I’ve equated Lionel Messi to every people-pleasing overworked and underappreciated Millennial pastor and I want for him a victory because that, in its own way, feels like a “fuck you” to the broken system. If he loses, I will be very sad. If he wins, I will feel the creeping sensation that haunts every perfectionist after a victory: that it is never enough. This is probably not rational, but we passed the threshold for rationality a long time ago.
While finals are supposed to be the exciting culmination of a tournament, they are often injury-ridden and conservative games. Most finals are not that fun to watch. This is perhaps the hallmark of sports fandom, to submit yourself to a game that is unlikely to make you happy yet unthinkable to miss.
Christmas can be the same way. With all the expectation and anticipation, the day itself can feel like a tense spring of waiting for everything to unfold as perfectly as you’d imagined. We place such a big burden on these culminating moments.
I envy the Magi their genuine, childlike joy when they see the star stopped over the place where the child was (probably not the stable, although it’s romantic to imagine so). Many adults struggle to find that kind of authentic, awe-inspiring joy in the Christmas holiday. The mysteries pile up over the years and turn into a to-do list of family and presents and bathroom cleanings. I am the sort of person that loves the holiday season and finds the holiday itself tedious.
It is possible that a final is best experienced in the past or future tense, when we have the optimism to love it and/or the reality to make sense of it. I take joy from anticipating it and I take meaning from remembering it, but in the moment, I am stressed and concerned. The joy arrives, but the joy is easiest to access in a different tense.
When you watch the final today, you don’t have to be like the Magi. You don’t have to be overjoyed. Let time work the joy into the moment. Find the holiday joy in the tense you can, whether that is past, present, or future.