“God’s World of Play”
Dec. 4th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Advent is a very serious season. Last week we were told to stay awake, since no one knows when the Son of Man will reappear. This week, John the Baptist is yelling to all that you can’t just show up for baptism and think that is enough. You have to actually do something, to show how you are turning away from your prior ways!
Advent is a season for dreaming. Dreaming of a world where all will climb the mountain of God—a world where swords will be melded into pruning hooks (or shovels, if you will), a world where enemies, hunter and prey, will lie down together (and not devour each other!). And a child, one who might believe in both seriousness and dreaming, one who is often seen as “too young” to understand, or “not wise enough in the ways of the world,” or even just fanciful; that child will be a leader, that child will be the one of God.
Advent, a time of preparation. Advent, a time of wakefulness. Advent, a time of play. What? Again, Seasons of the Spirit, our lectionary guide, suggested a child-like sermon title—“Playing Pretend.” Like last week’s “Tiptoeing toward Peace” it conjures up a lightheartedness that I don’t often associate with Advent. And you notice I didn’t put “pretending” in my sermon title. Because I think our Scriptures, I think God’s word is not about “pretending.” This may be more real than anything else in our lives.
I remember when I first heard about three-dimensional chess (I believe it was in a Harry Potter book). I find one dimensional chess hard enough. To be able to look at the board and think moves ahead, it is mind-boggling to me. And in three dimensions? With several games happening all at once, or pieces jumping from one board to another? My mind is about to explode!
But here is where I think it might be a good symbol for us today. Advent reminds us that we are living in an in between time—yes, we are preparing ourselves for the story of God coming to be with us, Emmanuel (in the form of the baby Jesus)—But we are also preparing ourselves for God to come again, on the clouds, with trumpets sounding and angel legions, if Revelation is to be believed. And then, there is this Advent thread that holds up what the world could be—after God comes to rule, after the new heavens and new earth are created, after and yet something that we are supposed to be working on in the here and now.
Do you see how that might be seen as living in different dimensions all at once? We, adults, usually live in what we call the “real” world. But what about the world as God sees it (those dream-like sequences that Isaiah is always spouting)? Could we see ourselves inhabiting that world—jumping the chess pieces that represent us from our first world into God’s “after” world? And what about the world that is no longer what was, but not yet what can be? Is that another dimension? Is that what John is calling us to—preparing the way, making crooked straight, making high and low a level plain? Is Advent the time when we are jolted out of our every day sensibilities, to widen our mind to the possibilities of how life truly works?
Isn’t that something that we used to do as children, when we played? They say that playing is fundamental for the development of children, and if we squash it, or contain it, or God forbid “ban” it, we risk creating adults who are emotionally small, or mentally rigid, or just downright mean. Playing is what children do—and maybe that is why Jesus suggests that we should be more like children, for to such belongs the kin-dom of God.
So, come play with me. What might be a starting point this week? How about imagining a stump—the remains of a beloved tree that has died or been cut down. Can you imagine sitting at its base? Can you remember how tall it was, how its branches created shade for you in summer, and how beautiful it was in spring and fall. Does your heart ache at the loss of this old friend?
Those people hearing Isaiah’s words might have easily flipped from this powerful image, to another thought. For this was the stump of JESSE. This was about them, about their own nation—overrun, the temple in ruins, the elite taken to Babylon. Surely the Tree of Jesse—the empire built by King David and King Solomon and the Kings after them had been felled. An axe had been taken to it, and the mighty tree was no more. Only a sorry stump remained.
But the prophet says, wait a minute. Haven’t you ever seen a stump that just wouldn’t die? Haven’t you ever seen a shoot, a new young branch, sprout out of what seemed to be dead? That’s what God will do for you. Out of the stump, out of the roots, will come a new leader, and a new life for you. And this leader will be everything that you might ever want, that God might ever want. Yes, yes, we adults say after a moment--It seems as much an impossible dream as what comes after, that vision of a world not like our world. Nice try, Isaiah.
But this is where Advent shakes us awake from the numbness that life in this world can create. Who is to say that what we call real is the only dimension, or even the true dimension of life?
God is calling us to tap into our inner child:
--to remember what it was like to believe the impossible (like leaders who are righteous and good—or a world where there is no more fear, no more hatred, no more violence)
Tap into our inner child:
--to be sure that people can turn around (can change) no matter how far they have traveled from who they could be
Tap into our inner child:
--to trust in God’s vision, trust enough to work to move us towards that vision, (to jump back and forth from “this world” to the “working on it” world always keeping our eyes on what is happening in the dimension of “God’s world.”
Those not in the know will say, this is all pretend. That playing has no value. That it is just delusional, escapist, pie in the sky. But playing in God’s world and pretending are two different things. We are playing for keeps. We are playing a game in more dimensions than others can imagine. That is what Advent says. If it were all just pretend, God’s promises would be empty. If it were all just pretend, there wouldn’t have been a baby born in Bethlehem. If it were all just pretend, John’s message of “getting ready” for One greater than himself, would have gone unfulfilled.
But, Advent says, look at all that God has already done—look at the promises God has kept—believe in the promises God has made.
Advent says, God came to be with us in Jesus, the one we claim was Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, born in a manger. That already happened, but we tell ourselves the story every year, to make sure we remember God, Emmanuel.
Advent says, Don’t listen to the trolls; don’t listen to those who believe only in their own power and vision; don’t listen to those who only want to put you (and God) down. For there will come a time, there will come a day. And God wants us to make sure we are as ready as possible, to make sure our world is as ready as possible.
How do we do that? Maybe we enter God’s world of Play. Maybe we get up on tiptoe. Maybe we put together a play group. Maybe we schedule some time for stepping into God’s world. Maybe we let our imaginations run wild. Maybe we stop saying, “no.” Maybe we let Advent transform our lives once again.
May it be so, with God’s help. Alleluia, Amen.