It 's Christmas Eve. God's in the air. Thomas Fastnet doesn't believe in Him. His brother Chris does. They are good friends and argue at length but amicably.
Thomas says: "Why do you think that this world and its inhabitants are important enough to receive divine attention? Of the millions of possible worlds, circling millions of stars in millions of galaxies, why this one? And if this one, why is it in such a mess?
"The world is God's. The mess is ours."
Again Thomas says: "Let's get it in perspective. The universe is 13.8 millions years old, the Earth three and half billion. We've been around for 200,000 years. Crocodiles and ants, fish and dinosaurs for much longer. The whole lot is supposed to have started with a bang, from a pinpoint. How can apes like us, clearly bent on self-destruction, matter in the scheme of things?"
The big bang theory may be true but that doesn't mean that it didn't have a cause. There can be no effect without cause. Something must have created your bang. Yes or No?
And so it goes on. Chris opens a bottle of Madeira, sercial, the dry stuff. They savour it together. Chris's small children are asleep upstairs. Or supposed to be. Empty stockings hang at the ends of their beds. And their heads are buzzing with speculation and mystery. They are awake and whispering. Chris's wife Pat and Thomas' wife Alison are at Midnight Mass at St Nicholas just round the corner from the house. If they listen carefully they can hear voices, "Hark the herald angels sing..."
"Where's peace? Where's goodwill? Where's the justice? Just endless fighting over frontiers and tribal differences.
"Perhaps," says Chris, "justice and peace are in the balance of chemical elements in the universe which makes life and this conversation possible. Something of a miracle in itself. Or one almost achieved.
On that they seem to agree. And so they talk on with long companionable pauses in which the fire mutters in sympathy, until the quiet is suddenly disturbed. With a popping sound, the Christmas tree lights go out. In the dark the church clock chimes midnight. When Chris restores the fuse they see that the star on top of the tree is no longer alight. The bulb inside the plastic casing has blown. "A surge of current," says Chris.
"Or divine disapproval of my views?" says Thomas. "Or the state of the world?"
"Chris goes into the kitchen and brings another bottle. They drink in silence.
Outside, gravel crunches under foot, voices and... "I thought I heard a baby cry," Chris says, and gets to his feet. The sound of a key in the lock. The front door opens and into the room comes Pat and Alison, and in Pat's arms indeed is a baby wrapped up against the cold. "It's the Vicar's," she says. Her husband broke his ankle. Fell off a ladder trying to fix the lights which fused. At midnight would you believe it! Vicar's seeing him to the hospital. We're looking after the baby till she gets back. Jesse is his name."
The baby looks solemnly about him. He has that superior look of very young babies which seems to say, "I know more than you do". She holds him up to show him the Christmas tree lights. He gurgles, wide awake now. He enjoys the attention.
Thomas, who has no children of his own, on an impulse, takes Jesse from her and raises him in the air. He jiggles him up and down. Baby and man catch each other's eye. In a moment of understanding they both laugh.