This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” (NIV)
We don’t hear a great deal about playing as part of Christian living. We are often, rightly, reminded of the need for zeal and commitment, for perseverance and sacrifice. Taking up one’s cross and surrendering one’s life doesn’t automatically conjure up the idea of playing. But from this passage, it seems God is serious about play. Zechariah is painting a picture of a restored community of the people of God. Historically, this was to happen when the exiles returned from Persia to Jerusalem. But the return from exile itself is a preliminary to the great restoration: it is a picture of eternal life with God. If this passage was historically fulfilled many centuries before Jesus came, its ultimate fulfillment awaits the second coming of Jesus.
And further, we are meant to have a taste of heaven here on earth and so can presume that part of this taste is the experience of play. Whether we be old with canes in hand watching play, or of such an age that we participate in it. Playfulness is part of God’s creation. Life can sometimes get so serious, so oppressive, that we lose the capacity to enjoy, to laugh, to play. Children can play because they are not as conscious as we are of all that can go wrong in life and all the major and serious issues in life.
Grown ups can have the smiles wiped off their face very quickly by reading the newspapers or even by hearing a sermon urging us to take life seriously. Perhaps we have it out of balance. Experts tell us laughter is good for us, that play is good for children…of all ages. If God’s perfect life contains play, then our relatively imperfect reflection of that life needs to contain it as well. All work and no play makes us very poor advertisements for the man who came to give us life to the full. Life is far too important to be taken without a pinch of playfulness.