It isn’t that we aren’t doing things right, that we aren’t trying, that we don’t care. It isn’t that we have ignored God’s commandments or been unfaithful to Christ; it isn’t that we have become apostate. I spend a considerable portion of my time traveling around the country and for the most part, God’s people—with, of course, some significant and noteworthy exceptions—are doing what they ought to do.
But something is still missing. Nobody talks about it, but we all know it. Most of us have an “emperor-has-no-clothes” agreement with one another not to have seminars on the subject or to bring it up in committee meetings. But, nevertheless, we know. And when we aren’t busy doing the right things for God, the void haunts us.
Something is missing. It’s missing from our conferences, our churches, and, most tragic, it is missing from our lives.
The older I get the more I realize that Jesus really did come to “set the prisoners free.” The more I think about and walk in that freedom, the more I have discovered the exquisite joy in following him. I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread…and this beggar is still sometimes hungry; but he at least knows where the bread is.
Of late I have found something most of us, myself included, have missed: the laughter that comes from the freedom Christ gives us…laughter for those whom the good news has not been very good news for a long time.
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-11
The Contagious Laughter of God
When Jesus came something new happened. In fact, it was so incredibly new people almost missed it; they didn’t expect it.
God laughed—not with the laughter of cynicism, judgment, derision, or sarcasm—but with the free, infectious, joyful laughter of the sovereign Ruler of the universe.
We didn’t expect God to laugh that way. We expected him to be angry because we knew he had every reason to be angry. We expected him to bring down justice on the injustice of his world because we knew him to be a just God. We expected him to wipe out the whole mess and start all over. No one would have blamed him. We expected lightning, wrath, intimidation, and a fearful display of power. We could have understood that.
…But laughter? Nobody expected laughter—free, gentle, accepting, and loving. That’s what the incarnation of Christ is all about and when we fail to see it that way or when we proclaim it in any other way, we miss the whole point.
You will remember from Luke 4 Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue of his hometown. After reading a portion of the prophet Isaiah, he said a startling thing: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Let me give you the entire quote from Isaiah 61:1-3:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Do you see it? For thousands of years men and women had looked into the heavens and asked, is there a God? If so, what is he like? Does he care about us? Does he love us? Is he a monster? What does he require? Will he never reveal himself? Does he take delight in our pain? Where is he? Why won’t he tell us his requirements?
And then the laughter of God…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5; 14).
Now we can begin to see some of what God was doing in the Incarnation. He was saying, “You people have it all wrong!”
Why was Jesus so angry at the Pharisees and the scribes? Because he had gone to a lot of trouble to give them some very good news about forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom. And they kept getting it wrong. Toscanini, who apologized to the symphony orchestra he was directing for having blown up, said, “The trouble is that God keeps telling me how the music is to be played, and you—you keep getting in the way”
Jesus said the same thing to the religious leaders of his day: “The Father keeps telling me how the music is to be played, and you—you keep getting in the way.”
Genuine Christians ought to laugh a lot. In fact, Christians are the only people in the world who have anything to laugh about because God laughed first. And his laughter is contagious. One of the sure signs of God’s presence in the midst of his people is the laughter of his people.
So go out and laugh…and make Christmas merry.