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george hancock stefanIn the first book of the Bible, there is a story about laughter hidden within the larger story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God stops by the tent of Abraham with two angels. They share a meal and God tells Abraham that when they come again next year, his wife Sarah will have a child. When she hears that, Sarah starts to laugh because it contradicts everything she knows. She was certainly too old to conceive, and had always had trouble with infertility. It was because she could not become pregnant that she gave her servant to her husband so Abraham would have an heir.

God asks her why she laughed. Sarah denies it, insisting that she did not laugh. In spite of her lie, Sarah did conceive, just as God promised. She names her firstborn Isaac which means laughter, and says, “God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”

God has blessed my wife and me with four children. One time I said to my wife that there are two parts of parenthood that have been most enjoyable for me. The first is when a child realizes that she has a will and uses it against her parents to declare her identity. The other one is the free laughter of a child. They see something, hear something, or discover something, and start laughing. As they laugh, they invite the whole world to laugh with them.

Within the last few months as we have gone through the unthinkable throes of the coronavirus, laughter seems to have disappeared. We are surrounded by so much pain, grief, and death that we are afraid to laugh. It seems inappropriate in our circumstances. But the 126th Psalm has these words: “When the Lord brought the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations: The Lord has done great things for them. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.”

Right now, we know that there are 22 million people who are unemployed, and many are wondering how they will buy groceries next week. Parents have to explain the crisis to their children and attempt to answer tough questions. There have been funerals of parents, children, grandparents, and grandchildren, and family members are unable to say a proper farewell or even go to the funeral home or cemetery.

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who saw so much devastation that he wrote these verses, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like the suffering that was inflicted on me?” (Lamentations 1:12) Yet the same prophet writes two chapters later, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

It is because of our faith in the love, goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of the Lord that we can look forward to next year when we will look back at this year, and have joy and laughter again in our hearts, in our homes, and in our countries.