By Way of Sorrow, to Days of Joy
One of the traditional readings for Christmas Eve is from the Hebrew scriptures where the prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”
This year as I read Isaiah I was surprised to note my somewhat bitter response, “Well good for them.” I also quickly realized that this is not the best frame of mind for a liturgist as she approaches her tasks in December. But honestly, at that point, I hadn’t yet reached the warmth and comfort of the light. In fact, for much of this past fall I’ve had the lines from an old song by the group Cry, Cry, Cry continually echoing through my mind and heart: “You have come by way of sorrow, you have come by way of tears.” It’s been a rough year full of illness, death, uncertainty, loneliness, political machinations, and debilitating pandemic weariness for me, just as it’s been for so many others. Especially when I consider the burden added to the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, I have to say, this is a lousy club. Let’s figure out a different one, shall we? (If only it were that easy.)
Like everyone else, I love the part of Christmas Eve where we sing the soaring, multi-syllable “Glorias!,” and feel the warmth of belonging and unconditional love radiating from the heart of winter’s gloom. When I get past my defensive sarcasm, what I remember is that while it’s easier to feel these things when times are good, it may be necessary to go searching for them when things are not, to remind ourselves that something better is possible.
“You have come by way of sorrow; you have come by way of tears.” Fortunately, that’s not the end of the song. The refrain continues, “You have met your destiny, meant to find you all these years.” And the final verse affirms, “All the nights that joy has slept, will awake to days of laughter. All the tears that you have wept, will dance in freedom ever after.”
The trajectory of this song is very similar to the overarching narrative of the Christmas story, which every year reminds us that “the last and least shall be first; this is the sacred order and it can be restored.” The great revolution comes with the birth of love into the bitter cold of an uncaring world, and it restores a great and sacred vision for creation. When we open our hearts to this powerful possibility, we’re able to help bend the long moral arc of the universe toward justice, toward the bright light of love, the great warmth of belonging. We’re among those who help make heaven on earth, even if just for moments at a time.
May the light that is Christmas guide us.
May the love that is Christmas hold us.
May the peace that is Christmas fill us,
at this time and evermore.