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The center of the universe at 3 p.m. GMT on Dec. 24


The opening of the 2015 broadcast

It’s a saying of mine that the center of the universe is not a fixed place. It moves constantly. Young Luke Skywalker touches on this in Star Wars episode IV, when the says, “Well, if there’s a bright center of the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”

Many people live their entire lives in the dull, obscure shadows of being and meaning, with never a moment at the center of the universe. Lucky is the life that gets there once or twice, in a moment of bliss or discovery or good fortune. But the miracle lasts only for a moment, like lightning. Then the center of the universe moves on.

It’s highly presumptuous of me to claim to predict, in advance, where the center of the universe will be at any future moment. But I dare to predict that at 3 p.m. GMT on December 24, with what remains of Christendom in an annual moment of focus, the center of the universe will be at Cambridge, in the chapel of King’s College. At that moment, a boy soprano who learned only moments before that he is the chosen voice, will, for about the 100th time, step forward and sing “Once in royal David’s city.” After the solo, as the BBC’s camera pans across the high fan vaults of the chapel, the choir will join, then the organ and the congregation.

I would say that the BBC will be there to record the moment, but the BBC’s broadcast actually is recorded in advance. The service is repeated on Christmas Eve, though, for those who waited all night out in the cold to get a seat.

You might wonder why this matters to an old heathen like me. That’s easy: It’s the music. I wouldn’t give you two cents for the total output of every Christian theologian who ever lived. But the art and music — and a heretic or two such as Joan of Arc — are a different story. A culture can lose its religion, but the tradition may still matter.

I can hardly imagine a greater privilege for a child than to grow up as a chorister at Cambridge. It would be far better than being rich. Fortunately, it’s a myth that suicides peak at Christmastime. A song says that “it’s the best time of the year.” Maybe. But I’d argue that, for most people, it’s the most existentially arduous time of the year. And that which is existentially arduous, I suspect, tends to attract the center of the universe. I am about 4,000 miles from Cambridge and many parsecs from the center of the universe, wherever it may be. But at 15:00 GMT on Christmas Eve, I hope to pick up a signal from the center of the universe and maybe even sing with those who’re there.

Those of you in the United Kingdom already know how to get the BBC’s Christmas Eve broadcast. In the United States it’s a bit more difficult. Cable companies, satellite radio, and some radio stations will carry it, and you should be able to stream it with the right app on your smartphone.

Here’s the music. If you start practicing, you’ll be able to sing with them:

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