Of my fourteen Christmas Days as a bishop I've probably spent part of half of them in prison. That's not bad for somebody with no criminal record. I've eaten mince pies alongside both petty and serious offenders. I've been glad that some are locked away where they can't harm the lives of the rest of us. Yet I trust my visits made the point to me and to them that they're not beyond the reach of God's hand. His love in Jesus calls to every human heart. For some that may be the hope they need to get their lives turned found. They may be on the edge of society, but they are part of Christmas.
Whilst you may have to be a bishop to be allowed to visit a prison on Christmas Day, there are plenty of other ways to help the warmth of the season reach out far and wide across our communities, towns and cities. I remember at this time the Christmas shelter for the homeless that the church where I was vicar used to help out in, serving dinners and joining in friendly conversation with people who were often deliberately ignored on our streets. I also recall the smiles on the faces of the elderly residents of the council care home in Oldham our local youth club used to sing carols to in my teenage years. What I've discovered again and again is that being involved in acts of Christmas kindness makes all the rest of the celebrations a better experience.
I'm excited now to be bishop in a diocese where there is so much good work being done, at Christmas and throughout the year, by individual Christians and by churches. At Manchester Cathedral the Booth Centre provides services for the homeless. In town centres Street Angels help those worse for wear after a heavy night out. The Boaz Trust cares for penniless asylum seekers. Foodbanks feed those living on the breadline. All of them, and many equally impressive pieces of work are worth your support, especially at this festive season.
Christmas is a time to show warmth not just to our loved ones but to the unloved, the unlovely and even the unlovable. That's what #Christmasmeans. Now let's do it.
Bishop David Walker