Sara Joy Proppe attends Trinity City Church (EFCA) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is the founder and director of Proximity Project, an educational and consulting firm that equips churches to be creative stewards of their properties within the context of their neighborhoods in order to promote the common good. She is the co-host of The Embedded Church podcast and writes and speaks nationally on the intersections of urban design, placemaking and theology. Sara Joy holds a B.A. in English literature and a master’s in community and regional planning.
To Laugh Without Fear
Living between a promise and the present
It was a deep, dark night in a valley of the Andes mountains. I was visiting a church in the small farming village of Hualqui, Peru. Tucked in a sleeping bag atop a mattress on the porch, I awoke to behold a majestic canopy of stars, far too numerous to count.
In that moment, I imagined what Abraham, my forefather, had dared to hope when God commanded him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them…So shall your offspring be” (Gen 15:5).
What kind of joyous anticipation did these words stir in his weary soul?
This third Sunday of Advent calls us to consider the joy of the shepherds when they encountered all the radiant glory of the heavenly hosts announcing the birth of King Jesus as told in Luke’s gospel. What a magnificent story it is!
But I want to reflect on a different story. Long before the birth of Jesus, there was another shepherd: Abraham. And he quietly carried the promise of this coming King, choosing to walk in faithful anticipation of what seemed impossible. He trusted there was joy on the other side of following the unseen path that God was laying out before him. His wife, Sarah, learned to find joy there, too.
God came to Abraham to announce that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen 17:5). The same nation from which our Savior would come.
Can you imagine Abraham’s awe and wonder in receiving this message?
For one thing, he was old. Very old. And Sarah was barren. The years of hoping for a child had been long and unfruitful.
How could this be true? Why us? Why now?
Yet Abraham chose to believe.
Sarah, on the other hand, laughed at the idea. Can you see her now? Tears in her eyes as she scoffed at the news.
Really? Is this some kind of joke?
She was afraid to hope. A hope deferred makes the heart sick. Sarah knew this sickness too well. Hope can be a scary and painful thing.
Another kind of laughter
Night after night, those stars came out shining, reminding Abraham and Sarah of God’s covenant. But day after day, Sarah’s womb remained empty.
Did those glorious stars become salt in their wounds? They became desperate to fulfill a promise without the power to do so. In her doubt, Sarah advocated that Hagar, Abraham’s mistress, become the mother of this great nation.
But that son was not the one that God wanted, not the one that fulfilled God’s promise. Abraham and Sarah were sent back to square one, living between a promise and their painful present.
God was still at work. He had not forgotten his promise. When the time was right, God opened Sarah’s womb. “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him” (Gen 21:2). When the hope deferred in Sarah gave birth to this joy, we hear Sarah laugh again.
“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’” Genesis 21:6
In her fullness, Sarah invites all of us to laugh with her. To laugh at her naïve unbelief and to rejoice in the unbelievable promises fulfilled in her by a faithful God—the same faithful God we worship.
Remember to anticipate
When it comes to Abraham and Sarah, we have the advantage of knowing the end of the story. But we do not know the ends of our own stories. Advent reminds us that we are in a time of faithful waiting, living between a promise of restoration and our broken present.
The time of waiting is difficult. Our paths can feel nebulous and undefined, like the one Abraham was called to walk. The pain of our world resounds with deferred hopes. Like Sarah, we live awaiting our second laugh – the full and joyful laugh that comes with promises fulfilled, hopes restored and Christ returned.
In this Advent season, let us cling tightly to the stories of the faithful men and women who have gone before us, giving witness to the faithfulness of God. Let their stories bring us deep joy as we hold fast to the hope that is set before us.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-9
Christ has come into the world, and Christ will come again. Even when present circumstances are obscure, our belief in this truth calls us to inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:8). So press into that joy this week, remembering those who came before us in faith, anticipating the fullness of joy that will come through eternity with Christ.