Advent 5: Who’s Laughing Now?
“through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” – Genesis 21:12
All Kinds of Laughter
There are all kinds of laughter. We have all been in a situation where you are not supposed to be laughing… but you do… and that makes it worse. How is it that things are so much funnier when you’re not allowed to laugh?
When we look at the events surrounding the promise and birth of Isaac we see everyone laughing, but not in the same way. And let’s not forget that Isaac’s name, itself, means “laughter”. So what is going on here? Let’s look at this in detail to see the way that God is working out His plan for our salvation.
The first person we see laughing at this is Abraham. As you remember in chapter 17 (verse 17) God told Abraham that he would have a son and his first response was to fall on his face and laugh. But why is he laughing? First, we need to notice that he falls on his face before God in worship. Whatever else he is thinking, he is giving honor to God. Then we see him laugh, but it looks like this is just a good-hearted laugh. After all, he’s nearly 100 years old and his wife is way past the age for women to have kids. He’s laughing… because this is funny, and because he believes that this super old married couple is going to have a baby. You have to laugh at that imagery. Do you know a 90-year-old lady? Can you picture her in the hospital room holding a tiny, newborn baby? It’s a really funny picture.
Next, we see that Sarah laughs. In chapter 18, Sarah overhears God telling Abraham that she is going to have a baby in the next year and she laughs. This time it isn’t well received. Why is that? Isn’t this the same thing Abraham did a chapter earlier? Not necessarily. Sure they both laughed, but it was a different kind of laughter. When Abraham laughed, he was laughing out of faith, believing that God would do the impossible. When Sarah laughed it was out of disbelief. Look at the response that her laughter gets from God. When she laughs God asks her a question that exposed her lack of faith saying, “is anything too hard for the Lord?” Sarah was a bitter woman. She had wanted children her whole life and couldn’t have them. When God said this, it sounded like a cruel joke. You can picture her in her tent scoffing, “oh, now you want me to have a baby?…. sure, right…”
Joy to the World
Now that we are caught up, let’s look at what happens here in chapter 21. Sarah indeed becomes pregnant and when Abraham is 100 years old, they have a son named Isaac. Sarah is bursting with joy that she cannot contain. The only way to express it is with laughter. She proclaims, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (21:6). This is so exciting. It’s so easy to get drawn into this scene and laugh with her. This is a contagious sort of laughter. She realizes the humor in this and rejoices in it. Everyone who hears about this will laugh alongside her and be filled with joy.
Finally, the last person we see laughing is Hagar. Remember her? She isn’t happy with this situation at all. Up until this point her son, Ishmael, was going to be Abraham’s heir. But now that Sarah has a son of her own neither she nor Ishmael are needed anymore.
Abraham had thrown a huge party for Isaac and everyone is rejoicing. Everyone except Hagar. Sarah looks over and sees that Hagar is laughing at her. This situation looks like the classic example of “laughing at someone” instead of “laughing with someone”. Sarah can’t handle it and tells Abraham to send her away. Whoa? That’s a pretty big deal, I mean Ishmael is still Abraham’s son. But God tells him not to worry about it, but to do as Sarah said. Then He tells Abraham that He is still going to bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation too. It just won’t be the nation that He promised to Isaac. So even in this, we can see God’s amazing grace in the middle of our failures. Sarah and Abraham tried to shortcut their way to help God fulfill His promise and disobeyed him. Yet God in His grace still blesses the son that Abraham had out of disbelief.
Today we have looked at four different types of laughter surrounding the birth of Isaac: good-hearted laughter out of faith, and laughter of disbelief, joyful, contagious laughter, and mocking laughter. How is this supposed to help us focus on the Christmas season? All of these represent different ways in which someone could respond to the word of God. We need to make sure that we are responding properly to what God has said to us, even when it seems impossible. As we continue on this Old Testament journey to the Messiah we will see God working in completely unlooked-for ways. This should strengthen our faith in Him. God will always keep His promises. We have overwhelming testimony confirming this truth throughout the Bible and in our own individual lives. Let’s stop and thank God for working in ways that we could have never anticipated and marvel at His total sovereignty over all things: past, present, and future.
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