By Bob Hiller –
You can’t bring a goat to a World Series game. Everyone knows that. But, in the 1945 Series, as the Chicago Cubs were up 2-1 on the Detroit Tigers, fan and local Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis showed up to Wrigley for Game 4 with his pet goat. The scent of said goat was so overwhelming that Sianis was asked to leave. Outraged, Sianis retorted with the infamous curse: “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!” Interestingly, some accounts suggest Sianis wasn’t too outraged as he tied the goat up outside and returned to his seat. Nonetheless, the “Curse of the Billy Goat” has never been reversed. The Cubs lost the game and the series. Up to that point, the ol’ Cubbies had been without a Series ring since 1908. What is more, they haven’t won a series since. The curse lives on!
But that doesn’t stop Cubs fans from hoping. It seems that every offseason I hear another story about how this will be the Cubbies year. This year has been no different. A number of years ago they brought in Theo Epstein, one of the game’s premiere general managers, to improve their roster. This offseason he is living up to the hype. After abruptly firing Coach Rick Renteria, he hired the brilliant Joe Madden. Just this week he snatched up pitcher Jon Lester. That move, among others, prompted Vegas to switch the odds of Chicago winning the World Series from 50-1 to 12-1. Could this be the move that puts the Cubs over the edge? Could the 106 year old drought be lifted from Wrigley’s finest? Hope abounds on Chicago’s North side. Cubbie Nation waits with baited breath. But, before you run to Vegas, let me remind you of one crucial obstacle facing the Cubs this (and every) season: the Curse of the Goat!
We can laugh and joke (and cry and cuss) about this curse, but its shadow looms over the heads of Cubs fans. Though the curse is a farce, the reality is that they have not won in over a century. It is hard to keep hope alive in that sort of situation. They are in a perpetual state of waiting for a new reality to arrive.
So is the Church. Right now we find ourselves in the season of Advent. This is the season when the Church is reminded that she lives in a constant state of anticipation. Not only do we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ; we also prayerfully await His promised second coming. This time of year we confess our faith in the words of Jesus “Surely I am coming soon” by praying, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
But, if you and I are honest, it is hard to keep Advent hope alive. The curse’s shadow looms too large.
Advent is the season where we are made all too aware that, though Christ has already won, we do not yet experience that victory. We know Christ has already defeated the curse of sin, yet we still smell its noxious stink everywhere we go. That old goat, the devil, though already defeated, has not yet left us alone. Christ is risen, death doesn’t have power over him, but many of us are mourning another Christmas without loved ones. Thus, our Advent prayers come from a place of frustration and agony. We cry from the valley of the shadow of death, “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-3)
Advent is a season of lament. Lamentations are those prayers defined by their sorrowful, yet obstinate, hope. Lament is that way of praying to God from a place of sorrow that refuses to deny the curse and yet refuses let Him back off His promises. As Dietrich Bonehoeffer said in a letter from a Nazi prison, “A prison cell is like our situation in Advent: one waits, hopes, does this and that—meaningless acts—but the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.” Like a Cubs fan in the offseason, it is the lamentation of Advent that believes against the curse and all the hell it puts me through, that God will, in fact, fulfill His promises, Christ will return, and all that is false and damnable will be made right. But, make no mistake, lamentations are prayers of sorrow from a prison cell. They don’t pretend otherwise. A proper celebration of Advent, then, is found in prayers of lament. Bonehoeffer reminds us, “We simply have to wait and wait. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Woe to us, then, whose souls are not troubled by the curse that continues to wreak havoc on our earth. Woe to us who find peace on earth in Christmas cookies and pretty trees. Woe to us who think this is as good as it gets, because for many, it just may be. Woe to us who do not lament and who do not stubbornly pray for something greater.
But, for you who labor under the pains of death, for you who cannot shake the shackles of your sinfulness, for you who live in the reality of this damning curse and who hope against all reasonable hope that there is something greater to come, take heart! For the Lord has heard your cries. For you He has this promise: “Surely, I am coming soon…for you! And I will make it right.” As you wait for that day, know this: Amidst your lamenting, Christ does not leave you alone. He comes for you in water, in bread and wine, in the proclaimed Word of forgiveness from your pastor or friend. He comes there to, once again, remove the curse and to sustain you as you wait. Christ is coming. Keep praying. You have something far, far more certain than the return of a World Series to Wrigley, you have the promise that the Lord hears your cries and promises, “Surely, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!