Laughing with joy

It doesn’t often snow in London. When it does we make the most of it. So when the little flurries turned into a good, thick snowfall with nice, fat flakes the other day, we made the most of it as a family – snowball fights, snow forts, sledding. We had lots of fun and we laughed a whole lot. It was really good for us.

Laughter. Not as common these days as it was a year or two ago, perhaps. I don’t mean derisive laughter, bitter laughter or skeptical laughter. I mean the good type. You know the one: when the goodness and wonder of a moment overflow in an experience of unconstrained joy. The kind of laughter you see at weddings or at a family gathering celebrating the birth of a child … or a family having fun in the snow. Genuine joy.

In Genesis, Sarah finally gives birth to a baby. She’s in her 90’s. She’s been waiting almost her entire life for this moment and it is a moment overflowing with joy and laughter. She even names the baby Isaac, which means ‘he laughs.’ She is filled with joy at the birth of her son and declares “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me.” It’s a beautiful moment of hope and longing fulfilled. But this account isn’t the first one in which we’ve heard Sarah or Abraham laughing.

A little earlier on in the story, in Chapter 17, Abraham (Sarah’s husband) laughs for joy when God promises him that he will have a son. It is the delight that comes from the confidence in good things to come. It’s the laughter of new hope. Like the light shining in the eyes of a child that knows that the next day is their birthday. These moments are glorious. The Scriptures are filled with truths that hold overwhelmingly positive implications for us and they are a delight when we discover them. We need to cherish these sparks of light, celebrate them and remember them: dwell on them, meditate on them, write them down and refer to them often.

We see some more laughter in Genesis chapter 18, still a little while before Sarah falls pregnant. This time, however, it is the wrong sort. It’s the kind of laughter that comes when we allow our circumstances and our mood to get on top of us, obscuring the greatness of God. Sarah laughs in her skepticism when she hears the promise spoken again: she has waited so long, her body is so old, there is too long a history of disappointment and hurt. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the darkness of the present and the duration of the wait. This is when we have to choose joy. Paul repeatedly encouraged the Philippians to rejoice, even though he was in prison himself at the time. Sometimes joy is found through deliberate action rather than it being thrust upon us. The Psalmists exhorting their souls to rejoice. When we have waded through an age of hardship, when the night is the darkest and our sorrow most bitter: this is when we force our gaze on to the Lord – clinging to him to prevent doubt and misery from overtaking us.

But, as we persist through the shadows and the haze, we will (and it is an emphatic and an absolute ‘will’) see the fulfillment of His promises. And then we will laugh with a joy that is pure and rich and invaluable. We will laugh like Sarah laughed when her son was born at last. We will laugh with joy at the goodness and love of God.

Let us remember the promises that God has made. Let us hold fast to them (and to Him) when life is difficult and they seem to be fading away. He will not disappoint us or let us down. He will bring every promise to fulfillment (even if we have to endure more than we had expected). In this we can be sure and in this we can rejoice.

We can and we should look forward to the laughter.



I was retelling the story of Joseph and his brothers to my children this morning … the later bit of the story when Joseph is already a top bloke in Egypt and his brothers come to Egypt to find food. Aside from realising that the details of this story are extraordinarily complicated (pretense, guilt, hostages, journeys back and forth …), I was struck by the extent and thoroughness of the forgiveness that Joseph demonstrates. It’s a beautiful type of the love and forgiveness which God offers us.

So, Joseph first does a whole bunch of things to test the genuineness of his brothers’ contrition but when it is clear that they deeply regret the way they treated him and will even sacrifice their own lives to prevent something similar happening again, Joseph redeems them entirely.

1. “Have everyone leave my presence!” He doesn’t make a public spectacle of his forgiveness. He’s not trying to prove something or gain additional credit for his forgiveness. We sometimes do this: when we forgive we secretly hope that others will admire us for our graciousness and look down on the other party as a scoundrel. Joseph doesn’t. He sends everyone else out, he makes his reconciliation a private affair. His forgiveness is humble and focused entirely on the recipients of his brothers.

2. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” His brothers are terrified when they realise who he is but he draws them near. He doesn’t want them to fear him or his power. He wants them to feel his acceptance and love. Forgiveness is not just a theoretical concept. It isn’t paperwork It isn’t a check box and a signature from an unfeeling bureaucrat. God wants us to feel forgiven, He wants us to feel His love and His redemption. He wants us to feel close to Him.

3. His forgiveness is raw – it flows from the belly of his being. He throws himself on them and weeps over them. Its messy but there is nothing held back. He doesn’t partially reserve a little caution or a little dignity. Its all there. Unrestrained. An expression of overflowing love.

Joseph was only human and this can only be considered an incomplete representation of the forgiveness we receive in Jesus. Jesus grace is more glorious, more loving, deeper, purer and more enthusiastic whilst also being more narrowly defined. Being forgiven by Him is heartfelt, unrestrained, emotional and complete.