1 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. 3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”
They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”
6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs [one seah = 7 ½ quarts] of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” 7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”
And he said, “Right here in the tent.”
10 Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”
Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.
13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”
15 Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened.
But he said, “No, you laughed.”
The Lord was attentive to Sarah just as he had said, and the Lord carried out just what he had promised her. 2 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham when he was old, at the very time God had told him. 3 Abraham named his son—the one Sarah bore him—Isaac. [Hebrew “he laughs”] 4 Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old just as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born. 6 Sarah said, “God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.” 7 She said, “Who could have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse sons? But now I’ve given birth to a son when he was old!”
It seems likely that Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, had read or heard the story of Sarah, childless until very late in life. Sarah laughed at God’s promise that she’d have a son. Yet a year later she named her miracle boy “Isaac” (a form of the Hebrew word for “laughter”). Her story showed that, in God’s world, hope can always stay alive, even in a culture where many people thought childlessness was a curse from God.
- Sarah’s initial laughter might be equivalent to our phrase “Oh, sure!” (expressing disbelief). (Pastor Frederic Buechner observed, whimsically, that perhaps Sarah laughed because she wondered how Medicare would handle her maternity bills!*) In your imagination, flesh out Sarah’s story, which started with the pained laughter of disbelief, and ended with joyous laughter, to the point of naming her son “laughter.”
- Genesis said 25 years passed after God promised Abraham that he would make him a great nation until the birth of the son who was the first link in making that promise real. Are there divine promises you are waiting for, because they aren’t happening right now? Can you live with hope that, in the end, God’s promises will prove true (even if differently than you can picture now), as they did for Sarah, Abraham, Zechariah and Elizabeth?
Oh God, as I wait in hope for your perfect eternity, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen.
* This idea is found in Buechner’s book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale.
Wendy Connelly, M.Div., is the host of "MoJo For Moms" Podcast (MoJoForMoms.com; MoJo=Mom Joy!) and magazine column (KC Parent), and hosts The Lift Podcast on spirituality. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the non-profit, "Miracle of Innocence," and teaches classes at Resurrection Downtown and Leawood.