The mysterious visitor said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah was inside her tent, and she overheard the conversation. She laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
The Torah scholar Chofetz Chaim comments on this passage, saying that the story contains a hidden warning not to doubt the coming of the Messiah. Just as Sarah laughed at the notion that God would keep His promise to Abraham after so many fruitless years of waiting and hoping, we too are in danger of losing faith in the coming of the Messiah after so many years of waiting. After nearly 2,000 years, it seems laughable to imagine that Messiah is ready to return and that He may yet come this very day.
After decades of waiting for the promised child, Sarah had despaired of seeing the promise fulfilled. A similar situation occurred just before the redemption from Egypt. When Moses came to the Hebrew slaves, declaring the hour of their redemption, they did not believe him: “They did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9). The long years of suffering in Egypt had crushed their hopes, and they no longer had the strength to believe in the promised redemption.
If one truly believes in the possibility of Mashiach’s imminent arrival, then he will constantly be in a state of spiritual preparation, through Torah, good deeds and repentance. If, however, such is not the case, then it is apparent that our talk of his imminent coming is mere lip service; in reality, our faith is quite miniscule. This is alluded to in the words told to Sarah, “No, you laughed indeed.” (Chofetz Chaim)
In a similar teaching, the Apostle Peter tells us:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
When Sarah finally received the promise and held her baby in her arms, she laughed with joy rather than cynical incredulity: “Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me’” (Genesis 21:6). “Then our mouth was filled with laughter,” (Palm 126:2).