Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The history of Israel begins—if it does not sound too impious—with a joke, a divine joke. God told Sarah that she and Abraham would have a baby. Sarah laughed because she was too old to do such a thing. God kept His promise. They named the child Isaac which in Hebrew means “laughter.” Isaac had a couple of kids and one of them was Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The Hebrew reader understands that Laughter is the father of Israel.

Sarah and Abraham had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they'd better start dipping into their old age pensions for cash to build a nursery, the reason they laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they'd ever had hadn't been half wild enough. The laughter of Abraham and Sarah at this joke was not so much a laughter of unbelief as of disbelief, as when we say "You can't be serious" or "You've got to be kidding." Yet it was a laughter that became the laughter of faith. Abraham and Sarah would be less inclined in the future to declare the impossible. And their laughter, in turn, would become the laughter of faith and hope for generations to follow.

The Bible is a collection of tragedies and comedies that ends as a comedy. A tragedy has finality and ends in despair. The Bible does not end in misery, but ends with a pronouncement of life, making it ultimately a book of comedy—the unforeseeable grace of God is given to an undeserving people. Humor happens because people are surprised at the benevolence of God and are offered an escape or a way out from tragic life into faith. Like Sarah and Abraham, Christians are often surprised by God's goodness. The Bible shows how the comic eye can stare directly into the face of death and still see the surging powers of life and laughter. People laugh at the comic overcoming the tragic: How can Donald Duck foresee that after being run over by a steamroller he will pick himself up on the other side as flat as a pancake for a few seconds but alive and squawking?

The connection between the tragic and the comic can be demonstrated in one short saying from Jesus Christ. "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The first part, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens," is descriptive of the inevitable tragedy that is life. People live and die in pain. People are weary and carry heavy burdens. The second part, "and I will give you rest," is the comedy, the unforeseen joy given by the grace of God. Life is tragic, but God overwhelms tragedy with the comedy. Jesus says, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33)

This Sunday we’ll celebrate the triumph of comedy; I hope to see you then!

This morning I ran with a pack of runners. I did 12 miles with Christy, Machelle, and Robert. Paul joined us for most of the run. We ran a few miles with Joanie, Tracy, and Kurt. Lots of comedy.

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