I have recently arrived as Bishop of Bristol, having worked in a range of places in the UK and beyond, and know how easy it is for a country to be pulled apart, with profound and sometimes deadly impact.
I have lived in a part of our country where two villages refused to work together because one didnt tell the other that the Vikings were coming. I have lived in another part of our country where the city and the county wouldnt collaborate because they were on different sides in the English Civil War.
Our country has been pulled apart by the debate about Brexit. The campaigns and votes have laid bare the rifts not just within political parties but between London and the wider nation, between the nations which form our United Kingdom, between those who are growing richer and those who day by day are getting poorer.
My first post in the Church of England was in Liverpool a city being torn apart by the impact of the troubles in Northern Ireland. There was deep division, with the ongoing threat of violence. But painfully slowly the hard work of mending the tears in that city was beginning as Christians dared to meet across the boundaries of denomination, and befriend those who had deeply different beliefs. Painstaking work brought Christians of different churches together to serve the city, making common cause to work for hope, and peace, and prosperity.
Our whole country now needs a new vision of hope, it needs determined work alongside those who are poor, it needs the hard graft of reconciliation. It will take courage to reach out to each other with the offer of peace and hope. The courage of Mary when God reached out to her. The courage of Joseph as he reached out to Mary. The courage of shepherds and magi who left the familiar and journeyed to see Jesus, the one who brings peace to the world.
May I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a blessed New Year.