WHO IS LIKE GOD?
by M. K. MacDougall
God is like a jester.
And the joke is an irony: what should not happen, what could never happen in a million years, does, in fact, happen.
For example: Abraham and Sarah are one hundred years old and ninety years old, respectively. And childless.
Yet God promises to make them into a great nation. More specifically, he promises that Sarah, whose grand-nieces are at the right age to bear children, will have a baby. Who could help laughing? The thing is quite preposterous. Sarah “hunches her shoulders around her ears and starts to shake. She squinnies her eyes shut, and her laughter is all China teeth and wheeze and tears running down as she rocks back and forth in her kitchen chair.”
And, even more preposterously, it happens. Ninety-one year old Sarah gives birth to Isaac, whose name is from God and whose name means laughter. “So you can say that God not only tolerated their laughter but blessed it and in a sense joined in it himself, which makes it a very special laughter indeed -God and man laughing together, sharing a glorious joke in which both of them are involved.”1
But this is just the beginning. After many centuries, God creates an even greater irony: that a virgin shall bear a child.
chants a simple melody. How wonderful is the joke that
Sarah, at least, had her husband, Abraham. Pregnant Mary has no husband, and this points to a third irony, the biggest yet: having God as His father and Mary as His mother, this baby will be both divine and human. God, pure spirit, omnipotent and omniscient, and Man, body and spirit, limited in knowledge and power, join together. Both natures are present in the one person of Jesus. His birth, therefore, is too high and holy a joke for mere laughter. It causes an even greater response from those taking part in it.
Mary, vsiting Elizabeth, bursts into song, a song of praise for God, as does Zechariah at the birth of his son, the herald of the Christ. Angel choirs make the night sky brighter than day with their otherworldly harmonies (Gloria in excelsis Deo!), while ancient Simeon, whose eyes have seen God’s salvation,
chants a simple melody. How wonderful is the joke thatinspires such music!
Yet even more ironic than His birth is the Savior’s death.
In the words of William How, “Who is this that hangs there dying / While the rude world scoffs and scorns, / Numbered with the malefactors, / Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns? / ’Tis our God Who lives forever / ’Mid the shining ones on high, / In the glorious golden city, / Reigning everlastingly.”2
The eternal, life-giving Son of God died.
So now Jesus is dead, and everyone knows that the dead do not come back to life. Which means, of course, that that is precisely what Jesus does. Mary finds the tomb empty and weeps at the feet of the gardener; but lo! the gardener is Jesus.
The twelve disciples lock themselves alone in a room, and Jesus walks in, shows them His wounds, and asks for some food. Moreover, the double irony of Christ’s death and resurrection leads to two others.
First, that sinners are forgiven. Peter, thrice denier of Christ, and Paul, persecutor of Christians, are pardoned and appointed by God to lead His Church. The prodigal sons come home and get a party, while the serious elder brothers, who don’t get the joke, are left outside.
Second, that death is dead. For these forgiven sinners, death becomes only the gateway to a more lively life than life on earth.
Which all means that we cannot be silent. Good jokes are meant to be told, and this is not just a good joke, it is God’s joke. And so, we listen to it, and then we laugh at it and with it, and then we sing it out to the whole world, making fools of ourselves as well as music. We cannot possibly take ourselves seriously, for even God did not do that. Rather, we ignore ourselves altogether, for the joke is the important thing: that high, hilarious, holy joke, shared by God and man, called the Gospel.
Notes on these articles:
1 Both quotes from Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
2 From the song, "Who is This, So Weak and Helpless?"
M. K. MacDougall
193 Hilltop Lane
Annapolis, MD 21403