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Bishop Graham’s Christmas message for the EDP

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Earlier this month I visited one of our Church of England primary schools and spoke to a group of children about what they hoped to receive at Christmas.

“I want art supplies.”

“I want a bike for Christmas, my old one is really rusty.”

“I want a bigger bedroom for Christmas.”

Then came other answers where I wondered about the stories that lay behind them.

“A new bed so my brother doesn’t have to share with me.”

“A dog for my dad”

“I want world hunger to stop because I don’t get it.”

“I would like the war in Ukraine to stop because my dad in not with me”, said a young child, a refugee here.

I brought with me five plain cardboard letters. A C E P E

What did they spell?

‘Cape’ – ‘cap’ – ‘ace’ – ‘pace’ – were mentioned. The word ‘pee’ got a giggle. Then they got to ‘peace’.

They coloured in the letters to hang on the school’s Christmas tree. PEACE it proclaimed.

I pray that peace is the gift we will all receive from God this Christmas.

Peace in our families, peace in our communities, peace in our churches, peace in our world.

Having been in Gaza and Israel in early October, at the time Hamas launched its atrocious attack and the war in Gaza began, I long for peace in that region. The last few weeks have been hard as I think of the people I met in both places and all that they are going through.

The land where angels announced good news to shepherds, praising God and proclaiming glory to God in the highest heavens and peace among those whom he favours.

The land where the ancient prophet Isaiah spoke of a prince of peace being promised. His name would be called wonderful, counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

The Prince of Peace was not found in an army general, a national leader or a world diplomat, but in a baby, born to bring unity to a world facing many divisions.

Jesus was born into a conflicted world, amidst turmoil and persecution, and in a land under occupation. Forces that would soon make his family refugees, most probably passing through Gaza on their way to Egypt.

The crib scenes this year, and the joyful carols we sing, mustn’t settle us into a false comfort. In Gaza and Israel,  as well as in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, there is much pain, tremendous heartache, and untold suffering. Thousands have been killed. Many, many are children. Many more have been injured and the psychological healing on both sides will take a lifetime.

So, the crib scene in my mind this year is surrounded by bombed-out rubble. The carols contain the echo of wailing mothers and the cry of children. This story ought to disturb us and make us think.

Conflict breeds hate. Hate breeds distrust. Distrust breeds conflict. The cycle goes on.

Can there be a pause, even a ceasefire, so that we might just hear the gentle cry of a baby? In this baby we find a beacon of hope for a lasting and just peace.  Jesus speaks to us down the centuries of peacemakers being special.

He calls us to be peacebringers, peacemakers, peaceshapers, peacekeepers, in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in the world.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you”, says Jesus to us today.

My prayer is that, like children, we will colour in the word ‘peace’ this Christmas. Peace for ourselves and our loved ones, peace for those on the streets and those in danger, peace for those who will be working, and peace in those places of conflict around the world.