Read Genesis 18.1-15
God has a sense of humor. God laughs with us. When we get too serious about who we are and what we do, God interrupts us with holy laughter.
Just look at the story of Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham is resting in front of his tent on a hot summer day. He spots three strangers nearby. He rushes out to greet them, shows them hospitality, offers them a bath, some rest, and a bite to eat. They accept his generous offer. He tells Sarah to bake some bread and he prepares some meat. At this point in the story, they have no idea who these visitors are. Still, they go out of their way to welcome them, make them feel comfortable, and meet their needs. To Abraham and Sarah, these are just common strangers. Still they welcome them into their home.
Abraham and Sarah go about the serious business of showing hospitality. They open their home to strangers. They make them feel welcome. Abraham stands beside the strangers in the shade of a tree as they feast on the generous meal provided.
After the meal, the strangers rise to their feet. One of them asks for Sarah. “She’s in the tent,” says Abraham. Sarah was at the tent entrance, listening. “Well, I just wanted to let her know I’ll be back soon and when I return you’ll have a son.”
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, says the Bible. Sarah was past ninety and Abraham over a hundred. “It had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” That’s a nice way to say Sarah couldn’t get pregnant. It was physically impossible. No way!
Sarah laughed. What an idea! I’m an old woman. Abraham is an old man. We’re going to have a baby. You’ve got to be kidding! Abraham also had laughed when God told him in chapter 17 of Genesis that Sarah would give birth to a son. In fact, Abraham fell on his face laughing. Here, Sarah tried to hide her laughter. She didn’t want the stranger to think she was rude.
But Sarah couldn’t hold it in. The stranger heard her laugh and says, “You may think this is crazy, but with God, anything is possible. Just wait and see.” They did and in due time, gave birth to a son, Isaac, which means Laughter.
Laughter in the Bible flows naturally out of God’s love for us. Love and laughter go together. The Bible isn’t only a stuffy book for stuffy people. It is a book about God’s love for people who often do strange and funny things. It is a book about God’s love for people the world overlooks. Stutterers God calls to speak. Children God calls to lead. Old men and women God calls to become parents. Within the pages of this sacred book, there is plenty to laugh with God about. I like what Fredrick Buechner says about laughter in the Bible. He writes:
Laughter gets mixed up with all sorts of things in the Bible and in the world too- things like sneering, irony, making fun of. It also gets mixed up with things like slipping on banana peels and having the soles of your feet tickled. Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying like when you see an old drunk stumble around looking for his car keys. Sometimes you laugh and cry together like when Charlie Chaplin boils his shoe for supper because he’s starving to death. Holy laughter is hard to find.
Holy laughter is what David does when he spins like a top in front of the Ark of God. It’s what the psalms are talking about when they say, “When the LORD had rescued Zion, then our mouth was filled with laughter, or where they get so excited they yell out, “Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy together” because the LORD has come through at last. Holy laughter is what rings out when the Prodigal Son comes home and his old father is so happy to see him, he almost has a stroke, and they throw a party. It’s what Jesus means when he stands in a crowd of cripples, loners, oddballs and outcasts and says, “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Sarah and Abraham had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more to come. I don’t imagine Sarah laughed nine months later when the baby arrived and this woman ready for the geriatric ward instead checked into labor and delivery. But at that moment when this stranger, an angel from God, told them they’d better start dipping in their pension to build a nursery, they laughed because it dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough.
Holy laughter happens in the midst of our serious pursuits for a better life. God sneaks up behind us, catches us off guard, and blesses us in ways we could never have imagined.