Fires and the Comedy of Jesus’ Birth

Our team has laughed a lot together. We laugh at ourselves and our mistakes and our language learning adventures. It helps us to not take ourselves too seriously and to fit into the culture. There are times when laughing is the only thing you can do. For instance, last night we lost our power because the electricity pole across the street sparked and caught fire. Over half our team slept right through it like babies while the hotel guests were filing out with their bags. Those of us awake waited it out and decided to wake the others if the fire spread. This morning we had a quite the source of laughter from teasing each other about panicking and sleeping through utter chaos. Sometimes we have to laugh so we don’t cry. And sometimes we just have to laugh at how ridiculous we must seem. I have known my savior far too long to not believe He has a sense of humor. He certainly has an appreciation for irony. Just as we are supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, I believe we are supposed to laugh with those who laugh. I’m sure someone smarter than me could tell you about the health benefits of laughing—how it lowers blood pressure or releases endorphins—but they could also tell you that laughter is a psychological coping mechanism. When things are tense or difficult, sometimes our best defense as humans is to laugh.

The Khmer people have certainly been through more than their share of difficulties. Their history is riddled with persecution, prejudice, national disasters, hunger, and poverty. But they laugh. A lot. They laugh when they are uncomfortable, when people around them are uncomfortable, whenever someone is embarrassed, and just at life itself. But another reason they laugh is because they are able to do something most people can’t—they know how to find the comedy in everyday life, with all of its difficulties. How much more, then, do you think the Khmer who follow the Son laugh? They have true joy in life, despite their hardships. They know that in every situation, there is a true, giddy joy hidden below the surface, bubbling down deep. They have the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They are steadily moored no matter what comes into their lives, and they can laugh in the face of seemingly insurmountable troubles.

It should not have surprised me, then, when their telling of the Christmas story was riddled with laughter, radiant smiles, and a contagious joy that crossed all language barriers. The children put on a pageant of the story with costumes and everything. The wise men bent over their staffs and sported odd-looking Salvador Dali moustaches with attached beards. Herod was decked out in a yellow silk robe with a tiara on his head. The shepherds had their own herds of six-year-old boys crawling around on the floor in white button-up dress shirts. You see, they meant no disrespect to the story by staging and performing it this way. They didn’t mean for it to be a farce or something calling for derisive laughter. They valued this story so highly that they simply could not overlook its good tidings of great joy. Here is a story that, to them, meant the world; it meant that in their background of land mines, indigence, and the Khmer Rouge, there is a story of everlasting comfort to all people—a story of such joy that you can’t help but laugh at its brilliance and giddy delight. Unto us a savior is born! Unto us a son is given! And he means the redemption of the world. Who can help but laugh at such a wonderful gift of joy and salvation?