"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, he 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 baby, 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, the Archbishop noted—to let go of our aggression and fear and whatever else in us keeps us tied to violence, and bend together over a child in shared wonder and gratitude. Perhaps this common longing is what the old carol means by 'the desire of nations.'
You don't have to be a Christian to be profoundly gladdened by a story of open, defenseless love. Even when it comes draped in the gaudy tinsel and bows it's accumulated over the centuries, it touches something basic, something universal. And that should make us think twice about ever giving up on the human 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."
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.