Laughter

September 20, 2020/Genesis 21:1-7


It was a Monday in early February when my phone rang and I answered it to hear my daughter talking nearly hysterically.  “I really need to talk, Mom,” she said.  “Cause I’m really freaking out right now.”  After a difficult time and some heartbreaking losses, she was about eight weeks pregnant.  And that morning at the doctor’s office, she had learned she would have not one, but two babies.

We don’t have twins in our family.  I’ve thought and thought, and I cannot recall a single twin I’ve known or been friends with over the years.  Twins are unusual – only one in 250 pregnancies.  That’s less than 1 percent!  I jumped up from my chair, laughing and crying at the same time – overjoyed at Jennifer’s news.

Every pregnancy is a miracle.  “The birth of the child is the fulfillment of all of the promises, the resolution of all of the anguish.”[1]  The older the mom, the more of a miracle it becomes.  Jennifer informed me hers was considered a geriatric pregnancy – she’ll be 36 in November.  Her odds of getting pregnant within a year were about 50-50.  Sarah, at the ripe old age of 90, had less than a one percent chance of getting pregnant.

And yet, there she was, holding a wriggling Isaac in her arms.

Definitely a miracle.

Is it any wonder, then, that Abraham and Sarah had laughed when, on separate occasions, God sent word they would have a son?  Peering around the flap of their tent at the three men for whom she’d prepared a meal, Sarah must have thought they were insane when they announced to Abraham that “in due season” she would have a son.  God took offense, asking Abraham why his wife laughed.  “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

Indeed, Isaac’s birth “comes only by the promise of God.”[2]  This miraculous birth “occurs only because God has become involved in some way, when all the roads into the future seem blocked.”[3]  Sarah and Abraham are old, the text tells us.  “Who would have ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?” Sarah wonders.  “Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

“The son comes from the couple who is ‘as good as dead.’  There was in them no reason for hope.  [Along with resurrection and justification, this creation bears] witness to the peculiar power of God to evoke new life by his graciousness, not out of a ‘life-potential,’ but in a situation where there is nothing on which to base hope.”[4]

And so, Sarah laughs.  Her joy bubbles up from deep inside, from underneath all the past heartache and pain, from beneath the years of longing and despair.  It bubbles up and explodes from her in laughter, “because God has made laughter for me.”  “The joyous laughter is the end of sorrow and weeping.  Laughter is a biblical way of receiving a newness which cannot be explained.  The newness is sheer gift – underived, unwarranted.”[5]  A miracle has occurred, out of God’s faithfulness.  Sarah laughs, as all of Israel laughs in the Psalm:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad. (Ps. 126:1-2)

Isaac, like many children, is given a name rich with meaning.  He is named for the delight his birth has brought to this old couple.  Isaac – laughter – is the fulfillment of God’s promise to an unlikely pair in an unlikely time.

When do we consider the activity of God in the events of our lives?  In the mundane, everyday-ness of life, probably not at all.  But when I learn my daughter – flesh of my flesh – is pregnant with twins, when I consider that in little more than 24 hours Henry and Connor will make their grand entrance into this world, I celebrate miracles and newness.  And I laugh.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: Genesis, 180

[2] Ibid., 180

[3] Terence E. Fretheim, NIB Vol. 1, 486

[4] Brueggemann, 182

[5] Ibid.

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