4th Sunday in Advent – Vicar Stoppenhagen
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Series B) December 20, 2020
Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-16, Luke 1:26-38 Vicar Stoppenhagen
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
God can be very childlike, and like any other kid, he loves when his friends come out to play with him. David doesn’t seem to understand this. He’s holed himself up in his palace, and whenever David is stuck at home and starts thinking, bad things happen. Like that time when David stayed home from battle and decided to invite Bathsheba over to play. Bad idea!
This time around, David is relaxing in his palace when he gets the idea that God needs a house as nice as his. A good idea, right? Nathan thinks it’s quite pious, but God shoots it down real quick. “When have I ever dwelled in a house?” God says. “This tent is just fine for me, because unlike you, I’m always on the move; I’m always ready to play. You want to build me a house? I will build you into a house—an eternal dynasty.” This shuts David up pretty quickly, and after a long prayer of gratitude, he gets himself out of the house and goes out to play. Chapter 8 tells us all about how he and God together found whole battlegrounds of new playmates. God loves it when his creatures come out to play.
This idea of a playful God is hard to grasp. We usually think that God’s creating, redeeming, and sanctifying work are very grave matters to be treated with the highest reverence. But there’s a close relationship between seriousness and playfulness. It’s that thing that drives people to make jokes at funerals, or gives you that weird urge to laugh when your parents are yelling at you. God always seems to toe this line between the serious and playful. Despite the gravity of his mighty acts, God is still a Father who gets down on the floor to play with his kids.
God himself became a child, after all. But the incarnation is a serious thing, Vicar! It’s no child’s play! Or…is it? Yes. No one knew this tension better than Mary. She had just begun to leave childhood behind when the Angel Gabriel dropped by with a very serious message: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” All of a sudden, Mary found herself playing a part in the divine drama. But this would be no minor role, Gabriel explains: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give him the throne of his father David.” Here at last was the one promised to David; the one would be both David’s heir and the Son of God. Here, in the womb of Mary, was the God-man who would reign eternally. God has become a human being—and this is a very serious thing.
But Mary shows us that the most serious matters, require the most child-like response. There’s no questioning. No doubt. No attempt to stop and reason things out. She does have one logistical question—“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” But Mary doesn’t try to make sense of what’s happening. She doesn’t say, “This can’t be” or “I’m afraid I can’t play along.” Instead, we see Mary’s child-like faith; her humility; her quiet confidence and courage. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;” she says, “let it be to me according to your word.” Like a child, she simply receives. She meekly accepts her role in the drama with a God-given grace.
Mary then would see firsthand the very humanness and playfulness of God, beginning on that not-so-silent night in Bethlehem. The cattle were lowing, the baby awoke—and he probably started crying, because Jesus was a baby in a barn. He would have cried and cooed and peed and pooed. He would have run around his father’s wood shop with his brothers and sisters. He would have fallen and skinned his knee on the playground at Nazareth Elementary. He would have played like any other child. Yet amid all the playfulness, Mary would have known the seriousness of who Jesus was to become. She would have known that Jesus was always about his Father’s business—whatever that might be.
What Mary did not know was that Jesus wasn’t going to take any traditional path to the throne of David. Once he starts his ministry, he starts playing with the wrong crowd. Mark records the time when Mary and his siblings thinks he’s gone out of his mind. So they stage an intervention: “Jesus, this is not what the angel told me was supposed to happen! If you’re going to become the King of Israel, you should not be hanging out with these gentiles and prostitutes and tax collectors!” But the child-like Jesus knows that sinners and gentiles are allowed on God’s playground, too. This was a game-changer, and Mary and Jesus’ siblings didn’t want to play along anymore. They had outgrown their child-like faith in him.
We all have to grow up eventually. We all feel the need to put away childish things and take on the serious matters of life. We stop playing and start working. Making money becomes more enjoyable than making believe. We have children; and we fret about their future. Our parents age; and we worry about their care. All very serious matters, of course. But in the midst of all this growing up, we begin to outgrow Jesus. He becomes just another toy that we throw in the attic when the kids leave home. Sure, we might pull him out every once in a while during the holidays to admire and reminisce; or we might get him out for the grandkids to play with when they’re old enough. But all too often, Jesus ends up in the attic of our minds, and not in the playroom of our hearts.
This is why I think children make the best Christians. The things of this life rarely get between them and Jesus. Like Mary, they don’t feel the need question; they don’t need every point of doctrine explained away. Unlike David, they don’t feel the need to build a special house for Jesus, he’s right there, sitting at the tea party, too. They know that the playground of the Kingdom is open to all who would believe. Kids simply take Jesus at his Word.
Most of us can’t handle this child-like faith, because it means we lose control. It means dependence. But the life of faith follows an arc. We all make our way back to dependence, eventually—either because we want to, or we have to. This happened to Mary. Her faith revived, in time for her son to be crowned king, just as Gabriel promised. But this was no royal coronation. Jesus was crowned king not on the throne of David, but on the throne of the cross. The playful shouts that Mary had known, became cries of pain. His hands which she had held were now nailed to the cross. Her son was dead, and she was despairing. So Mary leaned on faith, because faith sees past the suffering of the cross to the ransom paid, sins forgiven, and a kingdom which has no end. And three days later, her mourning was turned into dancing.
We children of God should follow Mary’s child-like lean. We lean on faith because for us, on the other side of every trial is the opportunity to play and dance. In one of my favorite Christmas carols Jesus sings to us, “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, / I would my true love did so chance / to see the legend of my play, / to call my true love to my dance.” In other words, “Don’t worry about today; tomorrow is the better day; So take the chance, my love; come and join my dance.” Friday will be our dancing day. So get out of the house, if you can, and come to God’s house. Run to Christ with childlike abandon. Set aside the cares and concerns of this world and come out to play.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.