Holidays – Time to “Still out”

Do you ever feel like Crocodile Dundee in New York, greeting people in the town and getting no response? People with their hand-held devices, headphones and that glazed expression, unseeing, inward-looking, on their faces? They ignore your cheerful “Good morning” and seemingly go through life with two of their senses switched off.

We complain so often, and rightly, that the pace of life nowadays is frantic and frenetic and everything is so noisy, isn’t it? But isn’t increased noise part of the price we pay for progress?

Take grass-cutting, I remember hearing the regular gentle swishing noise of ‘the Swinging Sisters’, as they wielded their bamboo poles cutting the grass in our camp in Malaysia. Cylinder mowers were next with their regular whirr-whirr, but then the modern petrol or electrically powered mowers with their own particular din, together with strimmers, hedge-trimmers, blowers and shredders that took the place of shears and rakes.

But then, don’t we like noise? Can we live without the radio on in the background, our I-pods and Musak and those car stereo systems that, when on full volume, seem to alter the car’s suspension? And don’t we like to appear busy – in constant contact by phone, e-mail and social media with our business colleagues or family members?

If there is a reduction in numbers of people attending Church services, I don’t think it’s because people have come to any reasoned conclusion against the Christian faith. Convinced sceptics, agnostics and atheists are a tiny minority. The real reason is that in the midst of all the hustle and bustle there’s no quiet space left for thinking out spiritual matters. God is just crowded out. We give ourselves no chance at all of knowing God, because we don’t, deliberately, allow time to be still.

Here we are, approaching the peak holiday time when we ought to be thinking of ways to recharge our batteries and relax – remember that phrase from Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God.”? It was originally aimed at Israel’s enemies, telling them to back off from attacking Israel and to realise that the God of Israel was the only true God to be worshipped by everybody. Nowadays we understand the phrase to be more of a command to us to emulate Elijah and go to a remote cave to find God, not in earthquake, wind and fire but in the still, small voice.

So, is your holiday going to be one at the end of which you’ll be looking forward to coming back to Faringdon’s normal life for a rest?

I do hope not! Jesus gave us all an example in making time to get away from the crowds to recharge his soul’s batteries in the presence of God. We too should do the same, whether it’s an hour at a service on a Sunday or a few minutes for prayer here and there in our normal day, set aside to spend solely with God, to give ourselves the chance to ‘hearken’ to that still small voice.

I used the word ‘hearken’ because my dictionary tells me it means, ‘to listen with compliance or sympathy,’ or, even better, ‘to listen as an eavesdropper.’ So please do give yourselves the chance to be really with-it in the holiday period, and thereafter, by ‘stilling-out’ and eavesdropping on God.

Max Young

Epiphany Thoughts

What does ‘The Epiphany’ mean? To a lot of Christian people, the Epiphany just means the coming of the three wise men. But there is a lot more to it than that. For a start, the word ‘Epiphany’ means a “manifestation, or an experience of sudden and striking realization.” It can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Think of Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment in his bath, or Isaac Newton’s realising that the apple that hit him on the head, and the moon orbiting the earth, were being pulled by the same force.

To Christians it means the time when Jesus was recognised by the Gentiles, represented by the wise men, as the Messiah – King of the Jews. The wise men’s research told them that the King of the Jews was to be born at that time, they followed the star, found the infant Jesus, and realised that this was indeed the King they sought. That therefore was their Epiphany.

Epiphany comes just twelve days after Christmas, on 6th January. It is sometimes said to be the feast day that celebrates the final unwrapping of the present we were given by God on Christmas Day. He now reveals God the Son, the human being of Jesus Christ, not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.

For hundreds of years the world had been told by God, through the prophets, that he was going to come, himself, in the form of a new-born child, and this child would become, as an adult, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the world. God was true to his word.

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany should be changing us as it changed the wise men – they studied the scriptures and the skies in Advent, saw the Holy Child after Christmas, and experienced their own epiphanies.

I pray that we will all experience, or experience again, an epiphany in January. That we, like the wise men, will individually realise and understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that this knowledge will change us to be more like Jesus.

But, am I being over-optimistic? I sometimes wonder whether in the last two thousand years we’ve moved even an inch further towards bringing the kingdom here. What’s changed? Are we any less cruel than we used to be? Are we fairer, more caring, less vain, less greedy? As Alfred Noyes said, “God, build us that better world, but that’s not done with tongue or sword or pen – God make us better men!”

And in the words of Christopher Wordsworth, (nephew of William) and one-time Vicar of Stanford-in-the-Vale

 Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,

Mirrored in thy holy word;

May we imitate thee now,

And be pure, as pure as thou;

That we like to thee may be

At thy great Epiphany,

And may praise thee, ever blest,

God in man made manifest.

Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85)

May Advent, Christmas and Epiphany be joyful and revelatory experiences for us all.