By Nick Brzozowski
This post is taken from Nick's message given on 12/11/22. You can listen to it here.
Can I make a confession as a pastor? I don’t pray before meals.
A few years ago, my uncle started hosting Christmas with his girlfriend. I was asked to say the prayer. What is it about asking pastors to say the prayer? I don’t know about other pastors, but I never like saying the prayer. May this food nourish our bodies? Honestly, I never know what to say… and I’m afraid I’m going to say it wrong. This poor woman - I embarrassed myself and her. They don’t ask me to say the prayer anymore! What I really needed was to laugh - to break the tension of the moment.
I needed the tension to be broken with a laugh. Aren’t there times all you need is a good laugh?
The Christmas story is a reminder that sometimes we need to laugh.
We see how big old King Herod the Great is feeling a little threatened by a new born baby. I’m not the most confident person in the world, but the minute I start freaking out about a baby taking my job — I might have some internal issues to work on.
I just imagine the full conversation between Mary and the angel. The angel says, you will be pregnant with God’s baby. And of course, Mary has faith. But, she had to have asked — “Ummm, Gabriel, if you aren’t too busy. Could you make one stop to my parents? I’m sure they’ll believe me that it’s God’s baby, but it wouldn’t hurt if you made one quick stop.”
Or when a host of angels appear to the shepherds and say that a Savior has been born, the Messiah, the Lord. The shepherds ask how they know they found the right baby. And they say, he will be in a manger. Of course, we are so familiar with this that we miss the humor. You will find him wrapped in newspaper in the back alley behind the Jimmy John’s.
Let this blog be your call to laugh again.
Present #1: Joy
A couple weeks ago, Hannah and I had the privilege to attend our friends' wedding. They actually had two wedding ceremonies, the first being a traditional Ghanian one. And it was incredible, bursting with life and love and joy. The only problem was that we had no idea what was happening since it was all in a Ghanian language. But, do you know how I knew there was joy? Because there was laughing. I didn’t know the jokes. But, I recognized the joy and I found myself laughing right alongside them.
Think about it. How different are joy and humor? Some people think they are apples and oranges with just a thin bit of commonality. So, if you looked it up, you’d see that joy is extreme happiness, usually because you accomplished something big or life is as it should be. Humor is about amusement, about something comical. The stuff that makes you laugh.
Can you have one without the other?
A psalmist was reflecting on joy and said this in Psalm 126:1-2 — When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Here, joy and laughter are linked together. The people of Israel are so happy about their fortunes that they are laughing.
So, can you have joy without ever laughing? What if you are a really serious person? In Galatians 5, Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. That means joy is evidence that God is working in your life and in your heart.
So, how do you foster joy and so invite the Spirit to work in your life? One great way is to reflect on the promises and works of God. Another great way is to binge The Office! Humor brings joy.
Present #2: Wisdom
One of the goals of the Bible is to make you more wise. It is educational material meant to help you understand what God is like, to discern right and wrong and to contemplate the human condition. That’s not a light task.
How is the Bible going to give you a PhD in life? It’s going to make you laugh, of course. Packing the pages of God’s Word is irony and satire and exaggeration and absurdity.
God tells Abraham and Sarah that they are going to be parents at the ages of 100 and 90, and that through their family, the world was going to be changed. And then, Sarah bowed down and worshipped the almighty God who can do all things……NO! She laughed at him and the absurdity of it all — like who’s changing who’s diapers? They thought it was so hilarious that they named their kid Isaac, which means laughter.
You don’t think Jesus had some jest in mind when he said that you are so concerned with the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t see the log in your own. I mean, take a second to imagine how ridiculous that picture is!
Here’s what the writers of the Bible knew: humor enhances learning. It can wake up our brain and help us remember and make better connections. Humor can make us enjoy the learning process. It’s commonly understood that Albert Einstein attributed his brilliant mind to having a childlike sense of humor.
Present #3: Friends
You already know that laughter brings people together — it is a bonding agent. In fact, one study found that only 10% to 15% of laughing is due to anything even remotely humorous. 90% of the time, we aren’t laughing because the joke is that cleaver. We are laughing because we are with friends.
I can’t help but think of this one video of a guy walking into a crowded train and giggling. He kept chuckling for an awkward amount of time. But, this audacious stranger would not quit. Eventually, the atmosphere shifted. People stopped giving him strange looks and couldn’t resist joining in. There wasn’t a joke - it was just that joy and humor are so contagious.
I see this sort of thing in Acts 2:47, where it says that they were praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. This sums up what the church should be. It should be a place of praise. And it should be a place where we love and enjoy one another so much and it’s such a fun time anytime we get together, that more and more people want in. They want to be Christians because the cheer is so contagious.
Present #4: Humility
In an article by Joy Clarkson, she argues that there is more of a connection between the three words: human, humble and humor, besides just the way they sound. They all relate to the Latin word, “humus,” meaning ground or earth.
Being humble means that we remember that we are just human, just creatures that God collected from the dust, in which we will return. In humor, we pay attention to the strange and prideful things we do as humans.
And this is all over the Bible — humorous situations are presented to show just how human human beings are.
My favorite example of this is in the story of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet from the people of Israel. When God told him to go and preach to the Ninevites, he could not bring himself to it. They were so awful and evil that they should never get the chance at forgiveness.
So, he hops on a boat in the opposite direction. He gets swallowed by a big fish, spit out and relents. He tells the people of Nineveh to repent. And they repent immediately. No questions asked. No doubt, they feel remorseful. They whole city does this city-wide fast to admit to their evil. Even the cows aren’t eating.
Now, this is an example of satire being used to humble Jonah. The message is: just because you might be on the “right” team does not make you any better than anyone else.
Present #5: Resilience
Last Christmas, Hannah and I were on the highway when this reckless driver cut in front of us, coming within inches of our car. After, passing us, he weaved in and out of lanes. This was some of the most dangerous driving we’d ever seen.
While I was getting worked up, Hannah took action and called the police. Calmly, she says: “Hi, I’d like to report a reckless driver. Yes, mile marker 22 on I-94. Yes. Uh-huh. Thank you very much.” She hangs up the phone and without skipping a beat, says, “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal.” For fifteen minutes straight, I was dying of belly laughs. With just one sentence. One joke and my anger was turned to joy.
The key to longterm sustainability is a sense of humor, just a little levity, and just a little light-heartedness. I believe that is critical to a long marriage or to holding onto a job.
I’ll never forget when I heard theologian and my professor at Trinity International University, DA Carson, say that a mark of strong pastors is their ability to keep things light. It made such an impression on me, because when I thought of strong leaders and influential pastors and brilliant theologians, I didn’t think of people bantering or pulling pranks on each other. But, here was this well-respected academic saying that, in some way, levity was a mark of spiritual maturity.
Solomon wrote, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
When life is hard, when people fail us, when we face disappointment at our jobs, when we can’t afford Christmas presents or when we grieve loss, there are a lot of ways we can find strength.
But, don't miss the need we have for the joy of the Lord. Don’t overlook the power of a cheerful heart to heal and restore and bring life.
The angels appeared to the shepherds at night and the star shined for the Magi, pointing them to Jesus at night. In the same way, humor tends to be shown the most when things are difficult and life is unfair.
Christmas time represents a tension. We celebrate that Jesus came as we anticipate Jesus coming again. But, here we sit, between his first and second coming.
Christmas shows us that in so many ways Jesus is not here. What if God gave us humor for that very purpose? What if humor was God’s gift to us in a world full of dread, to whisper things are bad now. But, this is not the way they will always be.
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