A few years ago I wrote a series of sermons based on the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, and tied them to songs composed by one of my musical heroes, Bruce Cockburn. This week, the words of his song “Joy will find a way” have murmured and echoed in my heart.
Before I played the Cockburn song for the congregation, I offered a quote from Michael Franti. He is a hip-hop artist who draws on a lot of reggae and folk and pop influences. He is also a deeply spiritual person. In an interview he said, “ joy is the intersection between the human and the divine, and that’s why at some points, when you experience joy you throw your hands in the air, you laugh, you dance, but at other times you experience joy you cry, and you like release in this other way, and it’s the same thing, and its coming from this place of letting go…”
This is very different from the conventional definitions, which tend to equate joy with happiness. We can know joy, even in those times when there has been great sadness, and cause for tears.
In the Book of Isaiah, we hear the prophet say,
“1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”
Many of us know people who are in mourning. We know that for many, the holiday times can be very hard. We remember people who are no longer with us. We think of hopes that never came to be. We think of relationships that did not work out as we planned or dreamed. We may feel alone with our thoughts, our memories, our regrets.
How do we light a candle, and look forward to Joy? Here are the lyrics to the song by Bruce Cockburn:
Joy will find a way (a song about dying) words and music by Bruce Cockburn, 1974
Make me a bed of fond memories
Make me to lie down with a smile
Everything that rises afterward falls
But all that dies has first to live.
As longing becomes love
As night turns to day
Joy will find a way
I think that this song is about living through the times of sadness, and coming out the other side, changed, and believing it possible to go on.
In our culture there is a tendency to try to avoid going through the hard stuff. Everything should be smooth sailing, with no hint of storms. But that does not seem to be the way it works. There is no real new life without facing death. There is no change without loss. There is no joy, without living through the sadness.
Michael Franti says it this way:
“in the history of African-American music we have the blues, which is this expression of deep sadness, and sorrow, and struggle, and then once you have passed through the blues you come to funk, which is the same chords, just played faster, and now you have music that is celebration, and it is that transformative quality of music that keeps us all coming back”
He calls it the transformative quality of music. We might call it the transforming, resurrecting, new life giving power of God, who sees to it that Joy will find a way.