They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ -- Genesis 18:9-14
I can hear it now. "You've got to be KIDDING!"
I admit that if someone showed up and told me I was going to get pregnant at this stage of my life I'd be a bit saltier in my rebuttal than "You've got to be kidding" and probably a lot more earthy than Sarah's response. Since I'm not facing that prospect, it's easier for me to think about the millions of women who, for whatever reason, ache to hear the words "Congratulations, you're pregnant!" but who have never and may never hear them said. Sarah probably felt that way until Abraham welcomed some strangers into the tent and the strange visit began.
In the days before in vitro fertilization and all the modern treatments for infertility, Sarah would have been just plain out of time and out of luck barring a miracle -- and a miracle she got. But that is later in her story. What is arresting about this story is that Sarah has a voice; she isn't merely a walk-on or even a "person #12" in the credits, she actually has a name and a voice. She even does something that not all that many people in the Bible do -- she laughs. It wasn't a rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-out-loud, belly-shaking laugh, it was just a sort of internal chuckle that would hardly be heard, even from someone hiding behind another because "good" women of those days didn't go around strangers, especially strange men, but remained decently (and quietly) out of sight -- and hearing.
Most laughter in the Bible is in derision, a scornful kind of laughter that conveys no enjoyment whatsoever. It's intended to make the derided one feel embarrassment and most of all shame, and convey the superiority of the one doing the laughing. Sarah's was probably more in the "Say what?" line, indicating disbelief, just like the nervous laughter of someone just being told they'd won the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes when they'd forgotten they'd even entered the contest. Still, she laughed, and she laughed again -- the day her son was born. She even named her son to commemorate the joyful laughter of finally holding a child of her own. It was a miracle.
What can I learn from Sarah? Perhaps that even unattainable goals or blessings might not be totally out of reach until the day I stop breathing. Maybe that surprises await me and may appear at the strangest or most unexpected times. I should never, though, miss a chance to laugh when the situation merits it.