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Bishop Graham’s Christmas message

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Eighty years ago, King George VI made a live Christmas broadcast from Sandringham. Britain had been at war with Germany for nearly four months and was fearful. The King quoted from a poem:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied:

‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

I wonder what you imagine the metaphorical Hand of God to be like? Strong and gentle? Stern and pointing? Rough and swollen? Smooth and warm?

Let me take you to see the Hands of God in a cave that has been carved out of the rock on a hillside in Bethlehem. This was the place in that middle eastern village where the ox and ass of tradition were kept, and as we peer in, beyond the stench of the animals, we glimpse a vulnerable family sitting in the shadows, cradling a newborn baby. And we catch a glimpse of its new-born hands held up:

hands that one day will beckon with the words ‘come follow me’;

hands that one day will bring a healing touch with the words ‘your faith has made you well’;

hands that one day will point and accuse with the words ‘you hypocrites’;

hands that one day will be held tight in prayer with the words ‘take this cup from me’;

hands that one day will be bound not in swaddling bands but in iron chains and will be stretched out as nails are driven through flesh;

and hands that one day not even death can contain.

In the hands of Jesus, in the hands of that newly born baby, we glimpse the signature of God. For the child within the manger is not just the child of Mary: this child is God with us and the key to how to be fully human.

As we look, the hands of Jesus make a fresh imprint on us, as though we were seeing them for the very first time. We see hands offered with gentleness rather than anger. Hands open to receive, rather than clenched. Hands giving with generosity, rather than holding back in the face of hardship and fear. These are the ongoing handprints of Jesus.

When we look at our own hands, I wonder what we see? How are they seeking to mend the world? How might our hands reach out in reconciliation in our deeply divided society as we tread into the unknown? How might they bring compassion to the poor, hope to those ill at ease, care for our planet, and a gentle touch to the frightened or lonely? In other words, how might we put our hand into the Hand of God in our day?

On the night before his Coronation, King George and Queen Elizabeth had knelt to pray with the Archbishop of Canterbury in a room in Buckingham Palace. They vowed to serve this nation. When they finished their prayers, tears filled each of the eyes of those present. Enormous challenges lay ahead, but the King and Queen faced them by putting their hand in God’s hand. Our challenges, individually and corporately, are different but are still into the unknown.

I invite you, this Christmas, to hold your hands together in prayer. Be thankful for all that you have received and for all the many blessings of this year. Offer to God any emptiness you might still feel, any fears, sorrows or anxieties. Then, perhaps, open your hands to welcome God gift of Jesus to you, and to me, and to the whole world. May the hope and joy of Christmas be yours.