The Wise Men and Brexit.
As everyone knows from the carol, Christmas has 12 days, culminating in a spectacular display of gymnastics by a group of peers. In the dark days of late December and early January, particularly in former times, any excuse for a celebration would have been welcome. But eventually holidays have to come to an end and the normal round has to be resumed. The church moves on, but with one last moment of celebration before the time of horse-hair shirts and self-denial/general misery that is Lent in the popular imagination. This is Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus and it is the season we are now in.
The story of the Wise Men is perhaps best known from the carol, “We three Kings of Orient are” with the “star of wonder, star of might, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading”. The star periodically comes in the news as people speculate about what might have been the basis for the story; an alignment of two planets perhaps? This year, had anything been visible, we could have seen such an alignment on December 21st. This speculation is interesting in its own way, but to me it seems to miss the most important part of the story. We only find the account of the visit of the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel and he is at pains to point out that they are not Jews. They come from the east. The Jews living in Palestine when Matthew wrote had survived numerous attempts to wipe them out; they had experienced deportation and had been living under foreign occupation for centuries. They had survived by closing in on themselves, rejecting foreign influences to preserve their own culture and faith, sustained by the hope that at some point God would step in and send them a saviour to rescue them. In some stories in the Gospels, Jesus seems lukewarm about reaching out to non-Jews. But in this story, at the very start of his Gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is for all humanity. Matthew was a Jew, he wrote his Gospel for his fellow Jews, but from the first word, he grasps the Jesus came to break down barriers, not reinforce them. In the early days of a New Year, a year in which Brexit has finally been done, Epiphany reminds us of the revolutionary message, that God reaches out to all.
Rev David Poyner
Hope and Vaclav Havel
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”
I was introduced to this quotation, from the former Czech president and philosopher, Vaclav Havel, a few days ago by our rector, the Rev Mike Harris. It seems particularly appropriate for our current situation, where we seem torn between the good news that vaccines are now being deployed and the bad news that Covid is raging and for thousands, the vaccine will be too late. Havel is perhaps best remembered as the man who led the peoples of Czechoslovakia from freedom from Russia and who also managed the peaceful division of the country into the Czech republic and Slovakia. As far as I know, he did not identify strongly with any established faith but he had a strong “spirituality”; a sense that it was not enough just to deal with a person’s material needs.
Talk of hope can seem very inadequate; a blind faith that the worse will not happen when it is obvious that it might. The Jews of the Old Testament knew this very well; their history was littered with disasters. And yet, whilst they sometimes raged against God, they had hope that whatever befell them, God was still with them. This was the hope that was shown in the life and especially the death of Jesus; abandoned by even God on the cross but paradoxically trusting that God was still with him. So the Christian hope cannot be wishful thinking; Jesus did die. Instead it is that no matter how hopeless the situation, the love of God can never be excluded. In his own way, I think Vaclav Havel understood this; it is something we can usefully remember in our current hopelessness.
Rev David Poyner
The door of Billingsley Church is currently decorated by a wreath. The wreath is a common Christmas decoration. The Wikipedia take on wreaths is that they originated in the ancient world, with connections to mythology and also as something that could be placed on the head of a victor, either in a sports competition such as the Olympic Games or a soldier after a battle. They were adopted by the Christian Church, although Wikipedia seems to think that the association with Advent and Christmas did not happen until the 16th century. The wreath is made of evergreens, representing everlasting life (or at least, the hope of life in the darkness of winter); the circle of the wreath was used to symbolise the eternity of God. The wreath is also used a base for candles, with one lit for each of the four Sundays of Advent. Although I can’t find much on the internet, I wonder if there is also a connection between a holly wreath and the crown of thorns pushed onto Jesus’s head at the crucifixion?
I’m sure all this is true, but I have to say none of this was what I thought when I saw the wreath on the church door. Instead, I was struck by its simple beauty; a flash of rich green against the light oak of the door. And also the way it seemed to invite me to open the door, to see what was inside the church. It was as though it was calling me in, calling me to hope. Perhaps that is not such a bad message in this of all Christmases, when we celebrate God coming into our world, to invite us to join him in his world.
Rev David Poyner
AT LAST WE CAN OPEN OUR CHARITY SHOP!
Following a meeting with our lovely volunteers this morning, we are pleased to let everyone know that our nice new shop in Coronation Street will open at 10.00am on Friday morning January 8th 2021!
To enable us to open safely, any donations have to be isolated for 48 hours, so we will have to put a system in place for accepting your items. We will be receiving donations at
THE PARISH HALL (back entrance) from Tuesday 29th December
Tuesday afternoons 2-4pm and Thursday mornings 10.00am – 12noon BY APPOINTMENT ONLY Please ring 01746 861722 to make an appointment.
Due to the smaller space, we cannot accept any electrical goods or large furniture at the moment.
We hope this will only be short term but PLEASE DO NOT leave items outside the shop.
For the time being and due to restrictions, we will only open on Friday morning 10 – 12, Friday afternoon 2 -4 and Saturday morning 10 – 12. We can only admit 2 people in the shop at any time, socially distanced and would ask all our customers to adhere to Government guidelines. We should like to thank everyone for their patience and support and look forward to welcoming you back.