“O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind…” —O Come, O Come Emmanuel
On a visit to South India, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked to bless the Hindu kitchen staff of a big hotel. The occasion was the annual mixing of the batter for their famous Christmas cake. So, as instructed, the Archbishop poured honey into an enormous trough of fruit, said prayers, shook hands, and walked out into the searing heat, with “Joy to the World” blaring over the loudspeakers.
Christmas, it turns out, is one of the West’s greatest exports. The story is known and loved even in places where other faiths predominate–Shanghai, Mumbai, Dar-es-Salaam.
And why not? It features a clutching newborn child, and not many people on earth can resist offering a pinky to the clutch of an infant.
It may be the thing we long for most—to let go of our aggression and fear and whatever else there is in us that keeps us tied to violence, and bend over a child in shared wonder and gratitude. Perhaps this common longing is what the old hymn means by ‘the desire of nations.’
You don’t have to be a Christian to be deeply gladdened by a story of open, defenseless love. Even when that story comes draped in gaudy tinsel and bows, it touches something basic, something commonly human.
And that should make us think twice, even in a season of fear and woe, about ever giving up on the heart’s capacity for goodness and faith, however deeply buried it may seem.
“O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind. Bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our Prince of Peace.”