“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…” (Psalm 126:1,2a).


ABC Family network recently showed all the Harry Potter movies through Goblet of Fire as part of their “25 Days of Christmas” line-up. (What Harry Potter has to do with Christmas, I don’t know. But I’ll figure that out later….) As I watched Harry and Ron and Hermione use their respective talents to solve puzzles and ultimately battle Voldemort, I noticed how many comic moments in these films I had missed or ignored. Apparently, the pratfalls and silliness will be even more evident in Half-blood Prince, so that even I can’t miss them.


Certainly as the storyline becomes ever darker, the body count mounts, and Harry moves toward his ultimate showdown with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, comedy is even more essential. We cannot emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually sustain constant horror, suspense, and sorrow. Somewhere we need a chance to take a breath, relax, and laugh a little, to entertain hope that the heroes (and we ourselves in real life) might just get out of a dire situation after all.


Especially in the Roman Catholic and liturgical Protestant churches the upcoming third Sunday of Advent (December 14, “Gaudete Sunday”) provides such comic relief. It invites us to laugh like those whose dreams of homecoming have been fulfilled by the startling action of the God who does great things (Psalm 126). We exchange our garments of sadness for gaudy, festive finery (Isaiah 61:3, 10). We are called to sing with Mary, so that our spirits rejoice in God our Savior (Luke 1:47).


And how we need our spirits to be lifted and refreshed! We are in the midst of a global economic crisis. New jobless claims in our nation are at a 26-year high while AIG executives get $4M bonuses. The automakers, once the bastions of American industry, have had to go hat in hand to Congress asking for a bailout, a bid which has now been rejected. Corruption in government has once again reared its ugly head, this time embodied in the governor of Illinois.


But even if corporate executives were not greedy and incompetent and government officials not arrogant and unresponsive—in other words, if we had been spared this current crisis—even then we would still be subject to the common maladies of the season. Lonely people would continue to long for companionship at a time when there is so much emphasis put on togetherness. Families would keep squabbling and fighting over anything and everything from the holiday meal to the number of presents under the tree to unmet expectations and failed promises. As in past years, stress would increase exponentially (for reasons, see previous sentence).


Advent and Christmas bring us the promise of deliverance. Not merely a temporary reprieve from the sorrow and stress (comic relief), but a permanent solution we might call “karmic” relief. In the coming of Christ at Christmas and the Second Coming we also anticipate in Advent, God breaks the endless cycle of sin and its consequence, the relentless crushing load of hopeless destiny. We hear words of comfort, assuring us that our sin is forgiven and our warfare ended (cf. Isaiah 40:2, KJV). The world is turned upside down, which is to say back to the way God intended, as the proud and strong are scattered, but the humble and poor are lifted up and fed (cf. Luke 1:47-55).


As Frederick Buechner once observed, the gospel is comedy (Telling the Truth). It’s a story that makes us laugh like those who dream, and through and beyond the laughter leads us to hope that weathers any crisis.


© 2008 Tom Cheatham