We all, I suspect, have our own favourite Christmas hymn. I can never hear ‘O Little town of Bethlehem’ without a tear coming to my eye. It captures something of the wonder of the event we are celebrating. Into a perfectly ordinary scene comes something – and someone – extraordinary. It is hard, in our urbanised, Western society, to imagine the darkness of an unlit street, but if you have an idea of it in your imagination, that, too, captures the vivid contrast between the darkness and the light. It is an image that always has relevance in this fallen world, but perhaps more so than usual in a year which has seen so much hardship for so many. There are times the darkness overwhelms us. There is, in all of us, a little of the Whig historian – that is the expectation that on the whole things get better across time. For those of us born in the decade after the end of the Second World War, that almost became the expectation. The ‘good guys’ were going to win and the ‘bad guys’ were on the losing side of history. So deeply embedded was this belief that it made contrarian attitudes almost de rigeur to some people; it at least added some salt to an otherwise bland meal. I still suspect that some of the leading Tory Brexiteers only meant to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ – but instead found, as in The Italian job that they’d blown the whole car up.
Well, the dye is cast, and we shall have to see how things go. Except here, and in the USA with President-elect Trump, there are those liberals who refuse to accept the verdict of the electorate. One can only imagine their own reaction to conservatives who had behaved as they are behaving. Our democracies stand on a precipice when those who see themselves as the well-educated elite decide that those who voted another way are so stupid that their verdict can be set aside. This is not how constitutional democracies work, and if it continues, then the consequences are clear enough; democracy will collapse. History does not have a teleology, liberal democracy is no more its destined end than is a theocracy or dictatorship. For Christians, the only end that is destined is that He will come in Glory to judge the living and the dead; however, no one but the Father knows when that time will be.
In the meantime He has not left us without guidance. Whether you believe the Christian message or not, Christ’s words, if followed, offer a better way of being in this world than any other. If we cannot bring ourselves to love God, then we can bring ourselves to love our neighbour as ourself, and we can treat all other human beings with the respect with which we expect to be treated. Whether we take a metaphysical point of view of not, most of us know there is more to this world than can be measured or weighed by us. We have, most of us, known love and given it, and we have, in that, some sense of what it might mean to say that God is love. Love, as St Paul noted long ago, is not selfish and brings out the best in us. Whether we believe in God or not, we can all try to tend in this direction; God simply offers the best explanation of why, despite our best efforts, we cannot do this without assistance.
To a world of darkness, where the darkness seems to deepen, there is one Light. So, as Advent ends and Christmas begins, let us welcome the Christ-child into our hearts, and let us resolve to do our part in spreading peace and goodwill.