The angels knew what was to come, the reason God had sent his Son from up above.
It filled their heart with joy to see, and knowing of his destiny, came tears of love.
And the creatures gathered round, and didn’t make a sound.
And the angels cried.
Country musicians Alan Jackson and Allison Kraus sing a Christmas song from the perspective of the angels. But in this song there there’s no mention of Gabriel appearing to Mary or speaking to Joseph in a dream. It doesn’t tell of the angel who announced good news of great joy to shepherding keeping their flock by night, nor of the heavenly chorus praising God and proclaiming peace on earth.
Instead, the refrain that weaves its way through this song is one of tears:
And the angels cried.
As soon as I heard it, I knew it must be true.
We’ve cried so many tears this year. Tears of grief and rage. Tears of disappointment, frustration, and fear. Tears of loneliness and longing. Tears in awe of those who are sacrificing so much for our sake. Tears of gratitude for hope on the horizon.
Of course the angels cried, too.
If you’ve held a newborn in your arms, you know why the angels cried. They cried for love. They cried knowing that it was for love that God sent his Son, and that His destiny was to love as God loves and suffer as only love can suffer. They cried knowing that they could do nothing to protect the child from the cost of a love that would lead from the manger to the cross.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once said that if you want to know what God is really like, how the creative power at the heart of our universe really works, look no further than the manger and the cross. “God acts by giving away all that we might expect to find of strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the cradle and the cross.”1
There is something worrying about this, Williams concedes. Surely we want God to be more powerful than a baby or a man sentenced to death. We don’t know what to make of a God who gives power away instead of wielding it over us, who offers healing through suffering rather than its avoidance; who accepts us as we are and meets us in our place of need, yet does not airlift us to safer ground.
But that’s how it is with God. If you want to find God in your life, look no further than the cradle and the cross, which is to say, where life is beginning and ending in you. Look in the places where you know the least and fear the most. Look in the eyes of those you love more than love itself, and of those whom you struggle to love. Look in the mirror; listen to the sound of your own voice; consider the beating of your own heart. Then lift your gaze to consider the state of our wondrous and wounded world and all that is at stake.
Like the angels, don’t be afraid to let your heart break and to cry at the sorrow and joy of it all, the wonder of life and the mystery of love. For Christ dwells in your place of tears.
And when the tears subside and you wonder what to do next, remember that the world is not saved by your trying harder, but neither are you a bystander in God’s design. You and I are invited to be part of the story, first to experience Christ’s love for ourselves and then passing it along. “The goodness of the Christian,” Rowan Williams writes, “is never a matter of achieving a standard, scoring high marks on a test. It is letting the wonder of God’s love knock sideways your ordinary habits, so that God comes through–the God who achieves his purpose by reckless gift, by the cradle and the cross.”
Pray with me now, asking for God’s love to knock sideways all that holds us back; letting the miracle come to us, and flow through us, with tears of love.
1Rowan Williams, Christmas Sermon, 2004