Day 14: Don’t Question Angels

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

-Luke 1:19-20


My eyes were already back on the TV as I hit send, and the reply was almost instant: “That’s exactly what I just yelled at my TV.”

In most moments in soccer, it is better to be unselfish, to make the good pass, to find the person with the best angle to move toward the goal. There are 11 players on the team and so, it stands to reason, being selfish is a bad idea most of the time (even if, I would argue, you are a superstar, hello Messi with the assist to Molina). There are moments to be unselfish. But there are also moments when you are handed a gift and you say, “thank you very much” and drive it into the back of the net. 

I won’t name names (DePaul), but Argentina had at least one of these moments in their nail-biting penalty kick victory over the Dutch yesterday. When someone hands you a gift, say “thank you very much” and drive it into the back of the net.

Zechariah does not get much credit in the advent story–probably because he spends almost a year unable to speak–but he has a weirdly long and detailed story. Zechariah appears in this highly descriptive encounter with the angel Gabriel, again at the birth of John the Baptist, and following the birth, he has a whole praise song, a sort of reprise of Mary’s Magnificat in a masculine voice. Joseph–the presumed father of Jesus–doesn’t get his own song. Zechariah spends plenty of playing time, but we remember him as an early sub who barely makes an impact on the play.

What makes Zechariah forgettable is that he is the guy who is handed a gift and takes one too many touches. He questions whether this is too easy, he looks for the pass when he has a wide open goal, he misses his moment. We’ve all been there, turning an easy yes into an over-digested “who, me?” Sometimes, good news is just good news.

I don’t really believe in the soccer gods, but I do believe in divine gifts. When someone hands you the thing you always wanted and makes it look easy in a way that belies the decades you worked for it and makes you question everything you ever believed–shoot the damn ball. Don’t ask why the goal is wide open now. Don’t question divine gifts. 

Accept the gift, and let the moment be divine and incomprehensible and everything you dreamed.

William Blake’s 1799 painting The Angel Appearing to Zacharias. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Day 8: Highly Favored & Highly Tokenized

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.”

-Luke 1:26-28

Today, American referee Kathryn Nesbitt is scheduled to assistant referee the England vs. Senegal Round of 16 game. She’s had a high profile this year as one of the six female referees officiating for the first time at the men’s World Cup.

The whole subject of female referees weighs me down. While I’m delighted to read about these female officials, I’m also chagrined by some of the media coverage that trumpets their uniqueness. I’m tired of celebrating women’s “firsts.” 

I want to normalize female referees, not exceptionalize them. The paradox of women’s representation in historically male spaces is that a woman wants to be recognized for who she is as a woman and to be taken seriously as a human being, regardless of gender. This paradox exists for nonbinary people as well. 

When I saw the first all-female referee team in a men’s World Cup game last week (Germany vs Costa Rica), my heart broke a little bit. I worried the tokenizing media coverage allowed FIFA to check a box of representation and claw back moral high ground without actually making systemic changes to respect and promote the many, many talented female referees in the game. My heart broke even more when I learned that Stephanie Frappart, the center ref, was also the first woman to officiate a women’s World Cup final in 2019. That is the year of our Lord 20-today-minus-three-years. 

When the angel Gabriel (who is male because Greek is a gendered language) comes to Mary, it is not so much that God is recognizing her exceptionalism in spite of gender as that the male writers of history are. When Gabriel invites Mary into a clinch role in God’s salvation, I want to shout, “Yes! Her!” And I also want to shuffle on and say, “Of course, all genders, always, in God’s kingdom.” In our flurry to resolve gender discrimination in church, Mary sometimes becomes a prop for reinforcing gender bias. As if the whole Bible can be redeemed of its patriarchy if she carries it on her back. 

What a thrill to be highly favored. And what a curse to be tokenized. No one should be impressed that FIFA is using baseline workplace nondiscrimination policy as proof of morality. In this Christmas season, let’s avoid Mary-as-proof-text-for-gender-equality, whether in sermons or music or Christmas party trivia about the FIFA World Cup.

Annunciation, by Leonardo da vinci, c. 1472.