We must here acknowledge one of the charges that has often been laid against our faith: that it appears to teach people to accept their present, real misery for the sake of an obscure future happiness, instead of encouraging them to take action and make things better. It is a form of religion that too comfortably suits the advantage of stratified societies and totalitarian regimes not to arouse suspicion. It is the Epicurean dimension of Christianity that encourages those who seek true peace to stay out of politics and take refuge in the garden.
But such criticism misses the vital centre of Christian discourse, something which it shares with every religious tradition. You might call it the strange desire for God, or perhaps just the strange desire for what lies beyond our limits. It is something that many, though not all, human beings experience. This strange desire is occasionally met with an answer: the silent voice from beyond, a powerful and delightful presence, whose final meaning we never grasp. It passes as if it had never been and yet makes us afterwards look at everything around us with different eyes, and perhaps with different hearts. It is such an encounter that enables us Christians to see in the cross not just the hideous human cruelty and that terrible moment of annihilating failure, but the deeper love, the victory of life and a final overcoming of all that we most fear. It is this that can also free us in our turn to confront the cruelty and failures of history and reveal in our small way, signs of hope.
Here, then, is our key to understanding how it is that we can rejoice, here and now. We have been privileged to glimpse something that helps us see the world aright and to find our true place in it. This we celebrate. As we contemplate the advent of the God-man into our world, not to destroy or abandon it, but to make it new, we are invited to see once more with new eyes and a new heart the world around us. What might we see?