|Arent de Gelder 1645-1727|
Three white-clad men walk out of the desert, out of the shimmering sands. Such is their calm and majesty that Abraham, the Patriarch, “very wealthy in silver and gold, sheep and cattle and camels and male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants” runs to meet them, bows low to the ground, and offers him his most lavish hospitality: a freshly slaughtered calf, yogurt and milk, and bread from the finest flour,
It is a theophany; Abraham sees the pre-incarnate Christ. Abraham sees God.
“Then one of the men said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” (Gen 18:10)
* * *
And Sarah, listening at the entrance of her tent, out of sight, snorts.
Same old, same old, same old promises. The son, descendants, more of them than the stars in the sky and the grains of sand in the seashore.
Well, God, that sounds wonderfully poetic, but you know, as for me, here, in space and time, well, I could do with just one child. Is that too much to ask? Well, yes, apparently so!
I am weary of these promises. I am weary of hope. “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” she thinks. (Gen 18:12)
And Sarah snorts!
* * *
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18: 13-14)
But perhaps the Lord thought, “Yeah, I am with Sarah. I have tried their hope and faith and patience for long decades. Perhaps too long. I have given them a good life full of richness in the interim. I have blessed them in every other way, but I know their longing, their heartbeat. It is for a son. It is for Isaac.
I waited so long so that they would never doubt that Isaac was mine, and not theirs. Never fail to see my glory in this baby, Isaac. Never doubt Isaac was a miracle baby, my miracle ancestor, pre-figuring when I too would enter human history as a miracle baby, the greatest miracle of all.
But it is now time. Time for their miracle. Time for Isaac.”
“I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” (Gen 18: 14-15)
* * *
Ah, Sarah, how you blew it. Snorting at a theophany! Snorting at Christ and his angels! You’ve lost hope. The snake of bitterness curls around your heart. You no longer have the energy, the courage to hope, and who can blame you?
And then you lie, you lie to the Lord, who sees your heart.
But are you zapped, turned to a pillar of salt, as Lot’s wife was?
No, the Lord understood your longing, your disappointment, your frustration.
And despite your snort of laughter, your spontaneous lie, He reiterated his promise, no longer vague, but definite, “I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
And He did, and you did, and you called him Isaac, which means laughter. Your snort of derisive laughter was redeemed; it became the laughter of joy at your miracle baby.
* * *
And sometimes, our dreams seem disproportionately enormous, and our faith wavers, and the years pass, but our dreams, the promises we heard God whisper to us, the destiny we are born for, has not come to pass, and when we verbalize our dreams, we almost snort.
And how can you, Lord, bless someone who has so blown it, a sinner, whose faith has wavered?
But you do because you know our frame; you know we are but dust, and so though we do not deserve it, though we have blown it again and again, you come to us; you bring the destiny you have promised us to pass; you give us the child of promise whose name is laughter. You enjoy the pun, artist that you are, transforming the snort of sceptical laughter to laughter like a running brook.