The late Roman Catholic Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa said, “There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.” Bishop Munzihirwa was martyred in 2001 in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.” JK Rowling tried to communicate that to children in her Harry Potter books, where only those who had seen death could see thestrals, a strange, dinosaur-type creature. Harry Potter, whose parents had both been killed, and Luna Lovegood, whose mom had died, could both see them, while other children couldn’t.
The eyes of the people of Newtown, CT must be weary with crying this Christmas Eve night. They have been joined by millions of others, from the President on down, weeping over the slaughter of innocents this month. A commentator on NPR quietly reminded us of other eyes that have been crying, when, after reading the names of the 20 children and 6 adults who had been killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said, “We do not know the names of the 10 or 11 children in Afghanistan who died this week when they happened to walk along the edge of a field that had been mined.”
“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.”
This story that we read tonight–about the young mother and her not-yet-husband, about shepherds and angels, about a baby born and laid in the feeding trough of animals–can be heard as simply a lovely miracle story, a story for children, a story without blood or pain or messiness; and it is a beautiful story about God’s sending a child into the world to teach and show people about God.
But “there are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried..” The story also has power for those eyes–through tears the story reminds us of how close birth comes to death, as childbirth was the foremost cause of death for women in Mary’s time and still is in many parts of the world; through tears the story tells us how God works through circumstances that are not at all how we would have liked them to be–an untimely pregnancy, a necessary journey at the worst possible time, rejection by people who can see only money or status or success. Through tears, the story tells us that it is often far away from the center of the news media, on the edges of society, that God sends messengers to tell of hope, and birth–to shepherds and peasants and those who frequent soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Through tears, the story reminds us that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The story may make us nostalgic, but we should not be naive about its power.
This is power that doesn’t need to speak in halls of power. This is power that disregards society’s infatuation with celebrity. This is power that is at work even now, deep in the earth as seeds lie dormant, at work on the edges of our vision, in the spaces inbetween our cells and leaping over the walls and boundaries we have carefully constructed. This is power that, even now, is giving birth to new life, new dreams, in young people and old who dare to dream dreams and be open to God’s wonder-working power. This is power that even death cannot stop.
“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.” Through the vision of tears we see not only great sorrow and suffering, but also deep joy and hope.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic,”
wrote historian Howard Zinn, it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. May we be part of the light. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark