[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2011]
Syndicated writer Susan Stamper Brown began a recent column she wrote with the following words:
Despite the fact that in America, 60 to 70 percent of people identify themselves as “Christian” to one degree or another, Christian-bashing seems to be just about as popular a pastime as watching football these days. And when a national football player commits the unpardonable sins of being both pro-life and vociferously, pro-Jesus, you end up with pundits who cast ridiculous judgments from on top of their lofty thrones, much like the old Muppet Show characters Statler and Waldorf.
The persecution of Christians has been going on since the days of the Roman Empire; it continues today in many third world countries, brutally, and here in America, more subtly. Tolerant of most other religions, pre-fall Rome viewed Christianity as a fanatical Jewish sect which was so easy to hate they made a sport of it. Sure, it’s a stretch to make an absolute correlation between 21st Century America and first Century Rome. Nonetheless, replace sticks with diatribes and stones with denigrations for similar results. One kills the body; the other slays the spirit.
If you’re a football fan who’s been following the National Football League this year, you can probably identify, quite easily, the person Susan Stamper Brown is alluding to in these two paragraphs I just read. It is, of course, Tim Tebow, the second year quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
Now let me begin by saying that, as someone who’s been a Green Bay Packer fan for nearly 50 years, I’ve never had any interest whatoever in promoting the football fortunes of the Denver Broncos—especially since they beat the Packers back in Super Bowl XXXII!
But I must confess that during the last couple of months I’ve found myself sitting in front of a television set several times on Sunday afternoons cheering for Tim Tebow—not so much for who he is on the football field, but rather for who and what he has been off the field, in his personal life.
I’m happy to see someone like him doing so well in his chosen profession (as long as he’s not doing it against the Green Bay Packers).
For the benefit of those who are not football fans: Before the Broncos drafted him in 2010, Tim Tebow played for the University of Florida, where he was part of two national championship teams. In 2007, he also won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player. But football has never been the most important reality in his life—as he would be more than happy to tell you. In fact, he’s often said that football is just a game and that God really doesn’t care who wins and loses. For Tebow, the person who’s number 1—the person who gives meaning and purpose and direction to his earthly existence—is the person (the divine person) whose birth we’re celebrating today, Jesus Christ. And it seems that he’s one of the few people in public life these days who does more than talk the talk when it comes to his personal beliefs. From all external indications, at least, Tim Tebow also makes the effort to “walk the walk”—i.e., the walk of a Christian disciple. When he was a student at the University of Florida, for example, he used to spend his summers helping the poor and needy in the Philippines, primarily at an orphanage run by members of his family. He spoke in prisons, led an on campus Bible study, and used his fame to help a number of good, charitable causes. This line from his family’s web page says it well: “Tim’s faith is the driving force in his life, and he is acutely aware that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ He keeps a poem in his room that reminds him of an athlete’s accountability to be a role model for the little boys who want to be just like him.”
Oh, and did I mention that he’s also “saving himself” for marriage? By his own personal example, Tim Tebow is teaching the youth of America that “virgin” is not a dirty word!
What a great public service!
But, as Susan Stamper Brown points out in her little article, all these virtues—because they’re rooted in his Christianity—have brought the man more criticism than acclaim—at least in some segments of our society. She writes, “Under normal circumstances, Tebow would be praised for his accomplishments, talent and leadership from around the Monday morning water cooler, but in these days of pseudo political correctness (PC), the words ‘normal’ and ‘Christian’ cannot run together in the same sentence. Those who praise their maker for their talent are not considered talented; they are just creepy.”
She then gives some examples of comments she’s heard: “Maybe he can cure leprosy.” “He’d be a better passer if he’d give in and sleep around town.” “I don’t want to hear about his faith every other sentence.” “Even Jesus is telling Tim he has had enough.”
She ends her piece with the following thought-provoking questions and comment: “What is it about Tebow that brings out such nastiness in so many of us? Why does the Jesus in Tebow bring out the devil in us? Why is Tebow such a lightning rod to those who haven’t seen the same light? Might it be that we can’t sit back to enjoy the game and appreciate Tebow’s talent because Tebow’s goodness makes us uncomfortable with our own not-sogoodness? If that’s the case, heaven help us.”
I think Susan Stamper Brown has a valid insight there, but I also think it goes a little deeper than that (and here’s where the connection with Christmas comes into the picture). You see, Tim Tebow and others like him remind us of a central fact of Christianity (a fact that some people would like to ignore or forget): they remind us that Jesus Christ is alive! He’s not just a figure of past history, who was born on Christmas Day and died 33 years later. He’s the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who demands our obedience; he’s the way, the truth and the life; he’s the only way to the Father; he’s the risen Savior who wants to save us from our sins AND WHO WILL SAVE US FROM OUR SINS, if we let him!
Tim Tebow and others like him remind us at Christmas that we must never, ever treat Jesus Christ like a lifeless figure in a lifeless crèche! We must relate to him as a Person—a living Person—a living divine Person—who created us out of love, who came to this earth 2,000 years ago out of that same love, and who invites us to live in a loving relationship with him here on earth, so that we will someday live forever with him in his glorious and eternal kingdom of heaven.
It’s a simple message, isn’t it? But it’s a message that can qualitatively change our lives for the better—if we believe it and then act upon it.
Have you ever wondered why Tim Tebow is almost always smiling—even when he loses (which is not too often these days)?
It’s because he understands this message better than most people do. And it’s because he’s ACTED ON IT!
But Fr. Ray, what if he falls? What if we find out on some dark day in the future that Tim Tebow has committed a terrible, horrific sin?
Well, then he’ll have the opportunity to remind us, by his repentance, that Jesus Christ came to this earth to die on that cross specifically for the forgiveness of our sins, and that there’s more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.
Please hear that if you’re someone who’s been away from Mass and Confession for a long time. The Lord is calling you home this Christmas.
But until that dark day comes for Tim Tebow (and I hope it never will), I will pray very hard for him. I will pray for him to keep on being a good, faithful witness to Jesus Christ and his Christian faith.
And I’ll even root for him on the football field, as long as the team he’s playing is not from Green Bay, Wisconsin!