And we’re back with Advent week 3, the women of Advent. To see the previous two posts, scroll down.
The third week of advent is traditionally “joy” week, the week when the pink candle is lit. Who better to highlight this week than the Biblical character famous for her laugh?
We’re going back in time a little bit this week from Rahab and Leah’s stories to the beginning of the Jewish people and God’s promise. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, first enters the Biblical narrative in at the end of Genesis 11, as a part of a genealogy explaining who has lived since Adam (it’s crazy that we’re still that close to the beginning that they can explain how Abraham descended from the first man).
And right after explaining how we got here, God makes a promise to Abram. God asks Abram to follow Him wherever he may lead, and promises that He will make Abram into a great nation, which means descendants. Of course, Abram and Sarai don’t have any of those yet, but he’s only 75 and Sarai’s even younger than that, so no immediate worries about God’s follow-through.
Then there’s a weird little story about Abram and Sarai going to Egypt and Sarai becoming Pharaoh’s mistress and accidentally giving him what sounds like ancient STDs (or a non-descript “plague”…). They eventually move back to the land God is calling them too, and years and years and years pass. And still, there are no children.
So God reiterates his promise with even more details in Genesis 15. It’s clear that Abram is beginning to doubt God’s promise as he still has no heir (v. 2), so God comes up with some beautiful language to describe Abram’s future descendants. And Abram believes.
Presumably, Abram goes home and tells his wife it’s time to get busy because God promised them LOTS of descendants and Sarai, ever the practical woman, reminds him of something. She’s barren. At this point, they have almost certainly been married for decades without popping out a single child, and it’s clear that even with some divine intervention, this isn’t in the stars for her (see what I did there?). Sarai believes God’s promises…. ish. She believes that God is big enough and powerful enough to create a nation through her husband, but also that he works through a rational, cause-and-effect driven world, and so He must have meant that Abram would have children with another woman. It’s logical, it’s rational, and more than anything, it allows God to keep his promise without the need for the miraculous. Sarai does not want God’s promise to fail, and so she believes she should help it along. As if humanity has ever done more than get in the way of God’s promises being fulfilled.
Sarai sends her servant to Hagar to have a child, and her plan succeeds. Hagar has Ishmael and a lot of ugly things happen, to Hagar, to Sarai, and to the future of humanity. To this day, Sarai’s descendants (the Jews) and Hagar’s descendants (the Muslims), struggle to find peace.
More years pass, and God again meets with Abram and promises him a son, but this time, God specifically promises that the child will come through Sarai and that it will be born within the next year. And Sarah, she laughs out-loud at hearing that her 90-year-old, post-menopausal, dried-up uterus that couldn’t even bear a child when she was fertile is going to have a son. Sarah, though I’m sure she would never say it, is a cynic. And the angel hears her laugh and asks her, point blank, “Is anything too wonderful for God?” Sarah, face-to-face with her own unbelief, she takes the easy way out. She lies. But there it is, her laugh recorded in God’s own book and she can’t take back what’s written in scripture, her doubts and lies shared for all posterity.
Finally, finally God comes through, follows up, keeps his promise without Sarah’s help. Sarah names her baby the son of Laughter, and her cynical, dried up, unbelieving laugh has turned to a laugh filled with joy.
And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Our cynical, unbelieving, scoffer hearts find that God has finally, finally come through on his promised redemption and there is nothing left to do but laugh with Joy, laugh at our former doubts and trust that all of the promises of God must be Yes and Amen in Christ because look at what he has already done.
Is anything too wonderful for God?