I’ve never known a soul to cry at an Easter hymn, but many of us cry singing Advent and Christmas songs and carols.
A friend was just telling me about the Lessons & Carols service she attended the first Sunday of Advent. “When the choir sang ‘People Look East,’ I started to cry—I always cry at that one,” she said. “And I looked at the person next to me, and she was wiping away a tear. I leaned over and whispered, ‘Are you crying too?’ She nodded, and I said, ‘Why?’ She just shrugged her shoulders.”
My Advent cry song is “Lo, he comes with clouds descending.” A former colleague, an organist/choirmaster, and I share the same lachrymal weakness for that hymn. The moment we hear it each year, we send each other a note. “’Lo, he comes,’” I write, “and here I go.” It’s the best cry of the year—a song that imagines the heavens broken open, a savior descending, and a future reign of God that puts all things to rights. It’s a fevered vision of justice that—like Isaiah’s promise of the lion and the lamb—depends nothing on present reality. But music makes it possible to believe the beautiful impossible. What we cannot say, we can sing—belt it out.
Still, that doesn’t explain why we cry at Advent and Christmas hymns. I’m no wiser than the woman in that pew who brushes her cheeks and shrugs her shoulders.
So I ask, What is the music that gets you every time? And, if you have a hunch, why? Where do those tears come from?
(If you want to hear a version of “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” that makes you think the clouds are actually parting right now, click here.)