The Last Laugh


So, once again I am trapped in the middle seat of a long flight.  This one to Seattle where I will be working with the pastoral administrators of the Archdiocese at their annual gathering.  I’ve had the privilege of working with them several times now and this time I’ll be sharing for the first time material from my current writing project on Redeeming Power.  I’m a little nervous about this… and also very excited.  Curious to see how the research I’ve done will intersect with their experience in parish life.

The last couple of weeks have been zingers.  Lots of waiting.  Lots of moving puzzle pieces around in my mind:  Okay, what will I do if this happens?  Okay, and then what will I do if that turns out to be the case?   I am grateful to say that in the last couple of days, lots of what was unknown has finally become clear.  There’s been very good news, good but hard news, and good but sad news.  But finally news, and that in itself is good. 

At the end of this week we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation when some very good was announced into the world by Gabriel, though maybe it didn’t feel that way in the moment.  Maybe it did.  Maybe it was just shocking.  Mary received the news and let it nestle under her heart for nine months, continuing to make sense of it likely very slowly.  The approach of this feast sent me back to a preaching that I wrote twenty years ago this very week that I would still stand by.  I am still asking the same question and still trying to give the same answer.  Still trying to sing the same melody line.  Still trying to laugh alongside God’s laugh.  I’m posting it below in case you have also had a couple zinger weeks of late. 

A reminder for Chicago friends that I’ll be in your fair city next Tuesday night to give the Diane Kennedy Lecture at Dominican University in River Forest.  It will be a fantastic gathering of good people, good food, and interesting topic (Truth!) and interesting conversation.  More information on this event can be found here.

Reflection on Luke 1:26-38

The history of Israel begins with a woman named Sarah and her wandering husband Abraham who follows directions no one else hears – the commands of an unknown god with dubious powers, only promises.  It begins with a triad of visitors in the heat of the day who speak with one voice, and make the most fantastic promise yet – a long-desired son unsealing the womb of the long-barren Sarah, her child-bearing years long-past.  It begins with a hearty laugh, and a question (that sounds perhaps more like a dare): “Is anything impossible for the Lord?”

Is anything impossible for the Lord?


It is a question that ricochets throughout Israel’s history. 

Cresting on the waves of the Red Sea. 

Whistling through the sand hills of the Sinai desert coated with a thin crust of manna. 

Thundering as the walls of Jericho tumbled and fire rained down on the drenched offering of Elijah

Hummed in the lullabyes of Hannah

Shouted with glee as Goliath’s body hit the ground with a thud…

And Judith returned with the dripping head of Holofernes.


Is anything impossible for the Lord?


Cyrus, the mysterious Persian, emerges from nowhere to end an endless exile.

Lamps with oil for one night remain lit for eight.

Water spurts from rocks.

Donkeys talk.

Men sleep with lions and sing in furnaces

To the echoing refrain of Miriam’s tamborine


Is anything impossible for the Lord?


In the course of time, Israel saw its unknown god of promises step out of the shadows to respond to Sarah’s dare – slowly moving from unknown toward known, from promise toward action, from un-carnate toward incarnate.  Month by month, year by year, century by century, everyday life punctuated rhythmically by a series of most unlikely events. A melody line unfolding, though sometimes lost amidst the other cacophonous patterns of history, equally intricate.  Crescendo-ing unto the heat of that day in the tiny village of Nazareth, when to Sarah’s most distant daughter was given once and for all heaven’s definitive answer:  A great resounding, “NO!” from the mouth of Gabriel,


“No. Nothing is impossible with God.” 


And, you, Mary, shall carry within you God’s final answer—given in the form of a child, whose whole existence will be a paradox.  An impossibility from the beginning all the way unto the end.

Deep in the heart of Lent—March 25—we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation.  The feast of God’s great definitive announcement in Christ.  It seems like such a strange feast to mark at this time of year when our focus is tilted toward the end of Jesus’ life rather than its beginning.  It almost feels artificially placed nine months before Christmas day, a far flung star from the constellation of Incarnation feasts that just happens to cross lines with the Paschal Mystery constellation.  And yet, for the original Jewish Christians, such intersection was not incidental.

Ancient Jewish custom assumed that great persons were conceived and died on the same day, and there is some evidence that possibly the feast of the Annunciation preceded the feast of Christmas as an established celebration in the earliest centuries of the Church, because it was the date reckoned to be the original Good Friday.  We might think this custom to be pure folklore occasioned by rare coincidence, but my suspicion is that the belief captures a deeper intuition that there is a profound connection between our birth and our death—a certain oneness and consistency to our person from beginning to end. 

When we celebrate the Annunciation in the midst of Lent, we recognize that the virgin birth of Christ and the death and resurrection of Christ are not two separate mysteries, but facets of the one same mystery, one same answer. 

A one chord climax to the golden melody line of history: Nothing.  Nothing is impossible for your God.

Still the air vibrates with this chord as it lingers, trembling.  One strong, pure harmony of pitches ringing out. Children of Sarah, can you hear it over the din? The orchestra is entering into its finale.  There are cymbals crashing everywhere. Competing melodies rise and fall wailing:

            God does not care.

            God is uninvolved in human history.

            God is dead.

            God does not hear your prayers.


Can you still hear God’s great announcement of this day? Listen. In these dark days, listen carefully.

And, if it helps you in your struggle to hear, know that this chord is accompanied by the sound of a hearty laugh.

This is not the laugh of Sarah you are hearing.

This is the last laugh.

The one that belongs to God.