Early in my career, I was the pastor of a small church in a rural community. Wilbur and his wife, Leah, attended every Sunday morning. Wilbur was a farmer, and whenever he came into his house from the field and sat down, he would fall asleep. It was such a habit that when he came into church and sat down in the pew, he would also soon fall asleep. I discovered that some members of the church were taking bets on how long I could keep Wilbur awake on Sunday mornings.

Wilbur's wife was embarrassed by his behavior, especially when he began to snore. She tried everything to keep her sleepy spouse awake. She complained to him that she was getting calluses on her elbow from poking him in the ribs in a futile effort to keep him alert. One day while grocery shopping, she saw a small bottle of Limburger cheese. Leah bought it and dropped it into her purse.

The next Sunday morning, I had just started the sermon when Wilbur began to nod. When I finished the first point in my three-point sermon, I could see I was losing him. As I started the third point, Wilbur began to snore. Quietly, Leah opened her purse, took out the Limburger cheese, and held it under her husband's nose. It worked. Wilbur sat up straight and, in a voice that could be heard all over the church, said, "Leah, will you please keep your feet on your own side of the bed!"

What do you think? Would Jesus have laughed that Sunday? I know I did.

It has always amazed me to see the reaction some people have to the idea that Jesus would laugh. When I showed one of my friends a painting of the laughing Christ, she was horrified. "That's sheer heresy," she exclaimed. "Jesus was too holy to act like that."

"But the scriptures say that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. Doesn't that mean he would have done the things all people do? Don't you think he had dirty diapers when he was a baby?"

"Of course not!" she shot back, and stomped out of the room. Let me cut to the chase: Of course, Jesus laughed. Every normal person laughs. To suggest that Jesus never laughed implies that he suffered from deep psychological problems. And what evidence is offered to support this idea? Simply this: The gospels never say, "Jesus laughed." We do read that Jesus wept (John 11:35), but never that he laughed or even smiled. But does this mean that he didn't? An argument from silence is never valid. To see how illogical that line of reasoning is, consider all the other things one would need to argue that Jesus never did. For example, there is no record that Jesus ever took a bath, washed his face, or combed his hair.

The problem is that many people look at Jesus through stained glass and find it difficult to think that he did the normal, everyday things that all people do. If Jesus is God as well as man, they ask, would God laugh? Perhaps the God some believe in is always stern and serious, but not the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Psalm 2:4 states clearly that God enthroned in heaven laughs.

Some have the idea that a sincerely religious person would always be serious. In one school, the seminary students were told, "To be a bishop you need gray hair to give you that distinguished look and hemorrhoids to give you that sorrowful look." But the great religious leaders, including Billy Graham, the pope, C.S. Lewis, and Mother Teresa, all find much that makes them laugh.

Jesus was a joyful person, continually urging his followers to be joyful. In John 15:11 he explains to his disciples, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Jesus was all for happiness. Don't miss the point in the Beatitudes by making the word "blessed" to be some solemn, otherworldly virtue. Scholars are agreed that the word Jesus used in Matthew 5 translated "blessed" could just as well read how happy, as in, "How happy are the poor in spirit." Jesus' conclusion is clear: "Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:12).

A Gallup poll found that half of all Americans thought that Jesus was not fun-loving. But Jesus loved a good party. He performed his first miracle so that a wedding party could continue. In Luke 15, every parable ends with a party. His famous story of the prodigal son ends with a party, and the older son who would not attend the party is portrayed as the one with the problem. In fact, the picky people around Jesus criticized him for being a glutton and having such a good time (Luke 7:34). His long list of friends included people from every strata of society.

Jesus must have been a warm teddy bear on occasion because the children loved him (Matthew 19:13-15). Children are never attracted to solemn, always serious people, but the children must have loved the sparkle in Jesus' eyes, his warm open smile, and yes, his ready laugh. They clamored to be with him, even trying to find ways to get around the blockade of the disciples, who thought Jesus had more important things to do than hold a child on his lap.

But Jesus, who was calling the shots, gave a reassuring smile to the children and said, "Let the children come to me, and don't hinder them" (Matthew 14:19).

Jesus also had a keen sense of humor. Our problem is that we tend to take everything he said so seriously that we miss the humor. His parables usually had an O. Henry surprise ending that would have left people chuckling. He loved to use the ridiculous to make his point. One famous example is a camel going through the eye of a needle. Some Sunday school teachers miss the joke completely and go to extreme lengths to explain that Jesus was referring to a small gate in the city wall that a camel could only crawl through with great difficulty. Why not just laugh?

Jesus was no gloomy messiah. His standard greeting to his disciples was, "Rejoice!" So let's smile, grin, and laugh. Jesus would love that.

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