What you see is a rather unusual looking cross. Its very different to the usual crosses that we see with Jesus crucified. This cross is meant to represent not just what happened on Calvary but the meaning of what Jesus coming was all about. Here what you have is a hand reaching down and clasping another reaching up and above it you have two hands reaching out in the form of a handshake.
In many parts of the East, particularly India, when people greet each other they say something very lovely, Namas Dei which means I greet the divine within you. Here we don’t say that, but our greetings usually involve the shaking of the others hand. This too has significance. When we open our hand it has to be empty and so we are really saying, I hold nothing against you. In the open handshake there is no concealed weapon with which I am going to use against you if we become close.
There’s something about Christmas that makes me think of God as the great bridge builder who is sending his son is reaching out to us in one big open handshake and saying he holds nothing against us. So the message of Christmas is always one of peace and goodwill to all people.
What makes the Cross complete is not just God reaching down and making the bridge between heaven and earth, but also the two hands reaching across and clasping each other. Therein lies our challenge both at Christmas and throughout the year. The practical expression of my faith in God reaching out to me lies in my willingness to let go of whatever I might be holding against someone else and to reach out my hand in friendship. While that challenge is there all the time, Christmas offers a more heightened opportunity than at other times. It could be a Christmas card or greeting, some gesture of goodwill, a willingness to bury the hatchet (in the ground and not in the other) and at some level to extend the open hand of friendship.
Thinking of Christmas as a time for building bridges I would like to tell you a story called The Bridge Builder. Like all stories it begins with, Once upon a time……there were two brothers who had always been very close. They lived in two farms next to each other. After 40 years of farming side by side, being the best of friends, and sharing everything, they had a row, they fell out, and while it started as a simple misunderstanding it became serious when it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by months of silence. They now had a major difference where any kind of reconciliation was utterly unthinkable.
One morning, one of the brothers named John, heard a knock on his door and he answered it to find a man with a carpenters toolbox. ‘I’m looking for a few days work’ he said, ‘would you happen to have any jobs for me here?’ ‘As it happens I do,’ he said ‘you’re just the man I need. That farm across there belongs to my brother and up to last week there was a meadow between us with a path linking the two farms. Just to spite me he went in with a digger and opened up the bank of the river and flooded the field making into a lake. I need to go one better. There’s a pile of timber over yonder and I want you to build me a big 8-foot fence so I wont ever need to see either his ugly face or his place anymore. That will soften his cough.’
The carpenter said, ‘I think I understand the situation. Just show me your digger, get me some nails, and I will be able to do a job that pleases you.’
John got the supplies needed by the carpenter and then went off for the rest of the week. Meanwhile the carpenter worked away sawing, measuring and nailing.
When he returned at the weekend the carpenter had just finished the job. The farmers eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. There was no fence but instead there was a bridge stretching from one side to the other, right over the creek of water. It was a fine piece of work complete with handrails and coming across was his younger brother with his hand outstretched.
‘You are quite a fellow’ he shouted, to do what you have just done and build a bridge like this especially after all I have said and done.’
The two brothers first stood at each end of the bridge and then met in the middle and took each other’s hand. With tears of joy in their eyes they agreed to put their past differences behind them and right there were fully reconciled.
They turned to see the carpenter hoist the toolbox onto his shoulder. ‘Please wait,’ said the older brother `I have lots of other jobs for you to do.’ ‘I would love to,’ replied the carpenter, ‘but the work `I have done is what most needed to be done and I still have many other bridges to build.’
And perhaps so do we, and there’s no greater joy than in building bridges.