Sorrow and Gladness

2 Christmas

What is Rachel to do for her lost children (Jer. 31:15)? She carves out with dropping tears and a wailing voice a space without location, empty, arid, acidic, burning, nothing. All hope is lost. She is a woman to know and love. At the bottom of her sorrow, there is nothing that is also strangely something, but still no object of this world. In the ruin of her devastation there is the mystery of the name that cannot be spoken, a promise from a distant world.

Jer. 31:7-14Ps. 84 or 84:1-8
Eph. 1:3-6, 15-19aMatt. 2:13-15, 19-23
or Luke 2:41-52 or Matt. 2:1-12

The friends of Job wanted tidy explanations, theological equations, moral arithmetic; we do too. And yet his friends were never more helpful than when they sat with him in silence, for his suffering was great (Job 2:13). Here alone, in bitter pain, a credible voice may speak: “Behold, I will lead them from the land of the north, and I will gather them from the ends of the earth, among whom will be the blind and lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return” (Jer. 31:8). Only God in the pit of sorrow may so speak. Only a human life attuned and trained by personal suffering may bear this message to the world.

The promise of goodness, grain, wine, oil, and increase must come from a land of pouring plenty far beyond the realm of human comprehension, but not beyond the possibility of human receiving. Can an empty flask object? Creatio ex nihilo is just the beginning. Moment by moment it continues. God makes life out of the abyss of nothing; God is on a cross.

The incarnate infant faces trouble from the start. “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matt. 2:13). The world was made through him, and yet the world knew him not. His maturation was a mystery and a worry to his loving parents. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 2:48). And yet there is profound stillness, a mandorla of glory where Christ is, for he is always “in my Father’s house.”

Movement ends; there are no words. “The star stopped over the place where the child was.” “They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.” Although no spoken words are reported, revelation says this: “They were overwhelmed with joy” (Matt. 2:10-11).

There is a time for every purpose under heaven, a time for sorrow, a time for gladness. But time is a river of the present moment, the remembered past, a projected future. And there is so much bitter pain, Rachel refusing to be consoled. Even here the impossibility of God does in fact often break through, inexplicably, never forced, in its own time. A suffering life may also be a life of deep joy. This can only be said in hope by those who know what they are talking about. “The young women will rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” This is the voice of hope and it is uttered by the words I will.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 84:2. Jesus is in his Father’s house. Here too the sparrow lives and the swallow has built a nest to lay her young. Rest here.

Think About It
I ask her how she’s doing with her terrible chemotherapy, and she says, exhausted, “Oh, I’m okay. I’m all right.” Somehow we laugh.

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