Christmas message from the Bishop of Burnley

I was once leading a children’s holiday when two of the boys had a colossal fallout resulting in one emptying out the other’s suitcase all over the bedroom floor. Socks and t-shirts everywhere!

I took them to one side to try and calm things down and gave them a pious little talk about saying sorry and repairing friendships. ‘That’s all sounds great, Fr Philip,’ shot back one boy. ‘But sorry doesn’t tidy my bedroom up.’

Conflict and division would seem to be hardwired into our nature as human beings and that has been all too clearly demonstrated over this past year. The vote on Brexit shows a chilling level of division in our public life with one side simply failing to understand the other.

A number of recent reports have highlighted the growing level of segregation between people of different religions and cultures within our nation, something especially evident here in East Lancashire according to the paper written by respected Government Adviser Professor Ted Cantle and published in November.

And then there’s further division caused by wealth inequality and the anger that so many will feel this Christmas because, despite working hard, they just can’t make ends meet.

For many, Christmas will be a time to escape from issues and problems such as these. A few days to put your feet up, watch comfort TV, eat lots, drink lots, laugh lots and pretend the world outside doesn’t exist. For Christians though, the birth of Jesus is not a distraction from the problems. It is the solution.

In one of his most beautiful passages, St Paul talks about Jesus being born so that he could reconcile to himself all things and so make peace. In other words, Jesus comes in order to deal with division.

By being both fully God and fully human, Jesus can heal the rift between God and us. And if we are one with God, we can be one also one with our neighbour. If we know unity with God in Jesus, we can be signs of unity in the world. Jesus is the reconciler who sends us to be reconcilers.

So this Christmas, I hope you have a really good time with those you love. But I hope also that you can experience in your own life the healing love of the Christ-child. For he reunites us with God, and as he does so, he shows us how we can be reunited with our neighbour.

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