JANUARY 2016 - AN EPIPHANY MOMENT
At the start of a New Year, we probably all have hopes and dreams for the coming
months, with concerns about our future security, the results of climate change and
our own health and well-being.
In the church calendar, this month includes the celebration of Epiphany (the twelfth
day of Christmas) on the Sixth of January. This festival reminds us of the journey of
the wise men from the East in pursuit of the new child born to be king. The word
means ‘revelation’ or ‘manifestation’. We can talk about having an ‘epiphany
moment’, that is when we suddenly understand something. The wise men had such
a moment when they saw the child Jesus in Bethlehem.
In Cyprus, we witnessed the special Orthodox celebrations on Epiphany at the
Harbour in Ayia Napa, where several specially selected swimmers competed to find
a silver cross thrown by the Bishop into the sea near to the shore. The one who
recovered it was rewarded and given special prayers of blessing. This day also
included a reminder of the Baptism of Jesus which is celebrated also during this
month, when the Father’s voice from heaven declared ‘This is my dear Son in whom
I am well pleased’. And at the end of the month, we celebrate Candlemas, which
reminds us of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple when the old priest Simeon
receives the 40-day old Jesus in his arms and prophesies over him in the words
known as the Nunc Dimitis - ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.... for mine
eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all
peoples, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of your people Israel.’
(Luke 2:29-32). Simeon also had an ‘epiphany’, as also did a senior saint called
Anna who was constantly praying and waiting in the Temple.
But in an uncertain world, we shall also be looking at a special promise from God’s
Word about the basis of our security and hope both for now and eternity. ‘The eternal
God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms...’ Deuteronomy 33v27
As we all face the uncertainties of the future globally, nationally, locally and
personally, it is good to be re-assured that there is One who has the whole world in
His hands (as the Gospel song reminds us). Have a happy and hopeful New Year!
DECEMBER 2016 - ADVENT HOPE; NO MORE PAIN...
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Have you seen ‘The Bucket List’ ? It is a film starring Morgan Freeman
and Jack Nicholson. They meet on a Cancer ward and each are given
just about 6 months to live. They decide on a ‘Bucket List’ - some adventures,
places to visit, things to do before they ‘kick the bucket’.
What would be on your ‘bucket list’? I wonder if you have completed all the things
that you wanted to do in life yet...? At one point in the film, the two men are overlooking the Pyramids in
Egypt and Carter (Morgan) asks Edward Cole (Jack) two questions:
i) Have you found joy in your life?
ii) Has your life brought joy to others?
I wonder how we would answer that for ourselves. Have we both found joy and given joy in life to others?
The apostle John, the closest disciples to Jesus, wrote three major parts of the New Testament.
First was the gospel which bears his name, written some time after the other three, reflecting on the life of
Christ in the context of Greek philosophical thought - Jesus is the LOGOS, the Word made flesh, who
dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. In this gospel also are the famous 7 ‘ I AM’ sayings, including ‘I
am the resurrection and the life’, with which many funeral services often begin.
Second, John wrote some letters to the churches, which include these words, often read at the start of a
Church Wedding service ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him..’ and later
‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear... We loved because He first loved us’ (1 John
As an old man, John was sent into exile on the Island of Patmos, off the coast of Turkey (near Ephesus
where he was Bishop). It was like Alcatraz or Robbin Island. He was sent there during the height of the
Roman persecution of the newly founded Christian church. On this island, God gave John an amazing
vision, a behind the scenes view of the present and the future. With fantastic signs and symbols and
science-fiction type imagery, John tries to describe what he sees given to him by the risen Lord Jesus,
who is described in Chapter One as ‘the Alpha & Omega, the First & the Last, the Living One. ‘I was
dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’ Rev.1v17,18.
Joseph Handel’s Messiah has made much of Revelation to be well known to many people, as he put music
to many of the words in this book. Probably best known is the Hallelujah Chorus. But the overall theme of the
book is ‘God Wins’.
Revelation is realistic about conflict, evil, disasters, persecution, suffering, war, immorality, fear, unbelief,
magic arts, murder, idolatry and much more that spoils the beautiful and wonderful world that God has made.
But that is not the end of the story. God is making everything NEW. Followers of Christ believe that He
overcame evil, sin & death by His own death and resurrection. So He promises in the last chapters of
- A new heaven and a new earth - where there is nothing that spoils it.
- A new Jerusalem, the Holy City, like a Bride (the old Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70) -
symbol for all God’s people, beautifully dressed for her husband
- A new home - God will live with humans. He will be with them and be their God.
With all this wonderful fresh, new, unspoilt goodness in the NEW thing that God is making, there will be NO
PLACE for... Tears, death, mourning, crying or pain.... Instead, there will be joy, laughter, abundant life and
wholeness forever. That is the HOPE of this Advent season. The coming of the Messiah is celebrated both for
his humble birth in Bethlehem and looking forward to his second Advent at the end of time. We hope that you will
join us in the many celebrations during this season, from Advent right through to Epiphany..... Simon Holloway
OCTOBER 2015 - THE TONGUE IS A FIRE
Have you ever found yourself saying something wonderful and positive one moment and then a little later saying completely the wrong thing? So much good and so much harm can be done by our words to one another. We can be either greatly encouraged or put down and demolished by kind or unkind words......
At the start of the week, I visited the Battle of Britain exhibition in Yarcombe and read again extracts from Winston Churchill’s wartime broadcast. These speeches brought so much encouragement and mobilised the whole nation into active resistance. In contrast, it was the stirring speeches by Hitler that roused the nation of Germany in the 1930s, still reeling from their defeat and humiliation after WWI. Perhaps you have also seen the film ‘The King’s Speech’ about how King George VI was helped to overcome his stutter so that he could give clear Wartime and Peacetime speeches, especially the New Year Broadcast.
The proverb we probably learnt in school is all wrong. ‘Sticks and stone can hurt my bones but words can never hurt me.’ It was meant to help children at school being bullied or threatened, but you and I both know that Words are important.
James the brother of Jesus writes some challenging words about our speech and use of our tongue in his letter to the churches. This letter is very much about Practical Christianity - faith that is real must be shown in action and also by keeping a bridle on our tongue (1v26)!
In Chapter 3, James warns us about a tongue that is out of control! But I want to turn this also on its head. James writes that the tongue is a fire (3v6). That can of course be a very negative influence. Careless words can spread a false rumour or information that can undermine someone’s character and cause mistrust and division. During the last war, there was a specific policy to sow disinformation to the enemy to confuse and distract them from making the right decision.
But the tongue is a fire can also be seen positively. Words of affirmation and sincere praise can encourage and unite people to follow a true and loving path of action.
On the Ride and Stride Walk yesterday, early on we were drenched by an unexpected localised downpour between Yarcombe and Stockland. As we grouped together on a high point, we sang ‘When you walk through the storm... walk on....’ Such words sung to each other encouraged one another to keep going. We dried out and finished the walk several hours later, without any more rain. However, at the same time one of our younger walkers Sarah Patch 9 from Stockland simply said ‘Walk Positively’. It became a phrase to encourage us to keep on.
But let’s learn from this passage by James some important lessons also about how NOT to use our tongues. We may not all be teachers in school or church, but many of us have an important role in being a role model to mentor others as parents or grandparents, friends and neighbours. Words matter!
1)The Tongue holds a key place in holy living v2-5a. .......One practical step could be to count to 10 before you respond to someone who has said something unkind. Consider the wisdom in Proverbs 15v1 ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’. Try it!
2)The Tongue can be an instrument for evil v5b-6
The tongue is a FIRE.... it can sadly spoil, stain, spread and stay..... You may remember that Jesus said that ‘out of the heart, the mouth speaks’. So what comes out of our mouth reflects what is in our heart. So, to change our speech, we really need a heart transplant. But so much is learned from others. If you have grown up with kind words and caring actions in your home and ideally reinforced by school and church, then you are more likely to repeat that as you grow up.
Children learn what they live.... POEM. This poem is printed on page .... It is on display in many school staff rooms, including Stockland Academy!...........
1. Count Ten before you respond to unkind words.
2. Bless those who curse you....Prayer changes things. Ask for God’s help!
3. Ask God to cleanse your heart and then fill you with His Holy Spirit again, so that you can bring words of encouragement, blessing and hope instead of negative words that put people down....