A KICK IN THE BUTT
Do any of you sometimes find it hard to get up in the morning? I guess most of us do from time to time. But I always had more trouble waking up when I was out on exercises as a Padre in the army. It wasn’t so much that waking up was harder. It was just that we generally got so little sleep.
I will never forget one exercise when I was with the 26 Field Artillery Regiment in Brandon Manitoba. That’s when I was on my settlement charge in Manitoba. The year was 1988. We were on a training exercise at CFB Shilo. It was actually my first training exercise with this new regiment. It was also the very first exercise after a significant change of policy. The Canadian Forces had just decided to let women into combat roles. Until then, combat arms had been strictly the domain of men. What were women going to do? None of us, of course, had any idea at the time.
On the exercise were six brand new recruits, their first time in the field. There were three young men and, for the very first time, three young women. It was not a problem until it came time to hit the sack for the night. As an Padre, I generally found a spare place in the tent that housed the senior staff and set up my sleeping bag. Not this time. The RSM came up to me and said, “Padre, there’s an orders group at 2100 hrs and the CO wants you to attend. If you don’t mind, I’ll have someone take you kit to one of the tents and set you up so everything will be ready when you want to go to ground.”
“Thank you, RSM,” I said. “That is most kind of you.” How wrong I was. When the orders group was done I was directed to a tent to find my kit. To my surprise, what I discovered was that I was sharing the tent with the six new recruits. The tent was arranged in the most unusual fashion. The three men were on one side of the tent and the three women were on the other side. My sleeping bag was set up right in the middle separating the men from the women. I realized what had happened. None of the other senior staff knew how to deal with this new situation so, by default, it fell on the Padre. I was the one designated to ensure that teenage hormones were properly supervised. But that kind of thing happens quite often in the military. I could have complained but thought I’d play the game just this time. And so the seven of us curled up in our separate sleeping bags and went to sleep.
As a Padre, I can get up whenever I want. That is not true of new recruits who had to get up at 3:00 a.m. to get breakfast for everyone else because that’s what recruits do. So when someone came in and roused them all, I just rolled over and went back to sleep.
Somewhere in my mind, there is a foggy memory of a master corporal asking if there was anyone else still sleeping in the tent. One of the recruits said there was, thinking of course of me but not really understanding who I was. The master corporal, not knowing that I was the one in the tent, came in all in huff and yelled at the sorry excuse of a God forsaken useless slug in the sleeping bag and adding a number of expletives that are not appropriate to say in God’s house or anywhere else really for that matter. And then, with a considerable amount of force, he hauled off and kick me in the butt. I rolled over, looked at him in the dim light and said, “Yes master corporal, what is it?” His face went rather ashen when he realized that he had just kicked the Padre who is an officer and he was all full of excuses and apologies. And then he exited, rather quickly I might add.
Again, I rolled over and went back to sleep. I could have made sure that the master corporal was severely disciplined for his actions but I did no such thing realizing that a story like that was worth it’s weight in gold to the regiment and, as the new Padre, how I handled it would it would go a long way towards creating a positive impression with the soldiers.
In the end, it all worked out well. I kept my mouth shut but the story spread like wildfire and the Padre quickly earned the reputation of being a good guy. And except for suffering a slight limp for a day or so, I was none the worse for wear. As for the master corporal, he was forever known a the one who kicked the Padre’s butt.
Sometimes it is so hard to get up in the morning. And that’s why every now and then, all of us need a good kick in the butt.
This is the first Sunday in Advent. The first day of the Christian calendar as we begin to prepare for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. According to the passage that I read from the book of Romans a few minutes ago, it’s also something else. It’s time to wake up. Romans 13:11 (NIV) says: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believe.” Hello. Good morning. It’s time to get up!
Wake up to what? It’s time to wake up to the fact that something important is going to happen. In fact, it’s not just one thing. Two important things are on the horizon. The first is that we are remembering that Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. That’s what Christmas is about – the birth of Jesus. I’m not saying that you can’t do Christmasy things like put up a tree and make short breads and other yummy things. Have fun with that. You can even start your Christmas shopping if you haven’t done so already. But ultimately Christmas really is about the birth of Christ at Bethlehem in a stable and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
That’s the first thing we need to wake up to. The second thing we need to wake up to is that it’s also a time to prepare for Jesus’ second coming. Remember that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he lived for thirty or so years, had a three year ministry and then upset some of the religious leaders of the day who had him executed on a cross. But as we all know, it didn’t end there. Jesus rose from the grave and he has now ascended to Heaven were he sits at the right hand of the Father. But even then, it’s not over because something else is going to happen. Jesus ascended into heaven but he’s also coming back. During the last days, the sky will open and Jesus will appear. He will gather the faithful to himself and take us to the kingdom of God where we will worship him forever. That’s also what Advent is about. It’s about the coming of Jesus the first time at Bethlehem. It’s also about his second coming at the end of time to complete the kingdom that he began when he first walked the earth.
We get the first one pretty well. Even most non-Christians in North America know that Christmas has something to with the birth of Jesus. But what even people who have been Christians for decades sometimes miss the part about the second coming. It’s time to wake up to that part of Advent too. That’s sometimes where we need to get a kick in the butt. We need to wake up to that reality. The day is coming when each of us will face God. The book of life will be open and we will discover if our names are written in it. We talked about that a couple of weeks ago. Revelation 20:12, 15 (NIV) is talking about those end times when it says, “Another book was opened, which is the book of life… If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Hello, time to wake from your slumber because this is important stuff. Jesus came the first time at Bethlehem. He came to save us and bring us back to God. He’s coming back again to finish the job that he began 2,000 years ago. It’s important to remember this because it’s what this Advent season is all about. Yes, it’s about decorating our houses and putting up Christmas trees, baking shortbreads and other goodies. That’s one kind of preparation. But Advent is also about preparing our lives for the day when Jesus returns. And that’s even more important than Black Friday sales.
NO ONE KNOWS
Jesus is coming back. We don’t know when. Jesus said so himself. In Matthew 24:36 (NIV) he said, “No one knows the day of hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows. Do you know what that means? It means that no one knows. Let me say it again, just in case you missed it the first two times. When Jesus said that no one knows, he meant that no one knows. Is that clear?
And yet, despite what Jesus said, well meaning Christians have constantly been trying to set dates for the second coming. In the second century, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Jesus would return that year – based on the dimensions of Noah’s ark. That wasn’t right. The year 1,000 AD was also popular. Pope Sylvester II suggest that would be the date. When that didn’t work out, he revised his prediction and said that Jesus would return not 1,000 years after his birth but 1,000 after his death. That didn’t work out either and then the Pope died. The brilliant mathematician and theologian Michael Stifel pegged Judgement Day as October 19, 1533. Oops. Some end times predictions were by people you may have heard about. John Wesley, the great British revivalist predicted 1836. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, suggested 1891. the Jehovahs Witnesses claimed that Jesus would return in 1914, but when it appeared that Jesus didn’t get the memo, they still insisted that he came but that he was hiding. And he’s still hiding. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God said it would be 1935. When that didn’t work, he said 1942. He later revised that to 1972 and then 1975 and then he died. Jerry Falwell predicted that it would be somewhere between 1999 and 2009. In case you didn’t notice, it’s now 2016. Jack Van Impe said it would be 2012. The list goes on. The one that really surprised me was Isaac Newton. That’s right; Isaac Newton, perhaps the most brilliant scientist to ever walk the earth and also a devout Christian. Back in the 17th century he pegged the second coming in 2000 which I guess is pretty safe because he was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to be around to be proven wrong, which also goes to show that no one can be right all the time. And by the way, if you want something to look forward to, Jean Dixon tells us that judgement day will be sometime between 2020 and 2037. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.
What did all of these people who made these predictions have in common? None of them read Matthew 24:36 which says that no one knows that day or the hour except the Father. So, unless they think they’re God they really should not be making predictions Some things in the Bible you just need to take at face value because, if you don’t, you’ll end up looking silly.
The important question is not; when will Jesus return? It’s not important because none of us knows and Jesus was very clear that none of us will ever know. In Revelation 16:15, he said that he will come like a thief in the night, at a time when he is least expected. He’s not going to come when we think he is. He will return when we least expect it.
The important question is not about when Jesus will return. The important question, rather, is; will you be ready when he does return? Understand this. You have absolutely no control over when Jesus comes again and you have no way of knowing. But you have complete and absolute control over whether or not you are ready for him when he gets here. That’s all you can control. That’s the only place you can make a difference. So that’s where you need to put your time and your effort.
So what is it you need to do? Romans 13 is quite clear. It says to wake up. In Romans 13:12 (NIV), Paul says, “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.” Then it gets more specific in Romans 13:13 (NIV) where it says, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” Don’t do these things. First it talks about how we use our bodies, particularly when it comes to sexuality. Your body is not an amusement park; it’s the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be respected as such. But it doesn’t stop there. It also talks about the mind when it says to resist dissension and jealousy. Sin is not only what we do physically. We can also think sinful thoughts. We can harbour dissension and jealousy and a bunch of other things like hatred, lust and greed. We’re called to resist these thoughts. And here’s why. It’s because if we can put those sinful thoughts out of our minds then guess what else happens? We are far less likely to commit the physical sins. That’s because every physical sin begins with a sinful thought. Cut out the thought and you have a far better chance to cut out the action as well.
But the bottom line is this. Learn to disciple yourself. Learn to not give in to your sinful nature. Learn habits that will help you to live righteously before God, in the way he wants you to live. Romans uses a metaphor to talk about this. In verse 12, it talks about putting on the full armour of God. In verse 14, it talks about clothing yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ. What that means is that you need to immerse yourself in him so that the light of his forgiveness and grace covers over the stain of your sin.
But how do you do that? There are two applications I want you to consider as you walk through the next week. Here’s the first one. Try to begin a practice every day of spending some intentional time with God. Block out a bit of time, even if it’s ten minutes. Spend time in prayer or read a couple of chapters of the Bible. Sit is a quiet room and listen to some Christian music. I’m talking here about quality time when you’re doing nothing else. I’m not talking about praying while you’re driving or listening to music while you’re getting supper ready. I’m talking about time with just you and God when he’s not competing with anything else.
When you do that, it’s amazing at how many things come to mind that you do or don’t do in your life that you maybe need to rethink. We all have habits that we need to change. To change some of them could be a major shift in your life – always for the positive. Or they may be something small that you need to tweak but it’s something that you’ve had trouble addressing in the past. Those things come to light when you spend time with God. Let his Spirit guide you and shed light on where he wants to work on your life. Wake up to those areas where you need to walk closer to God.
That’s the first application. Here’s the second one. Sometimes it’s hard to discern if something needs to change or not. One of the best ways to look at that is to ask a simple question. Here it is: What would my mother think if she saw me doing that? That’s a great question because while God is sometimes subtle, Mothers tend not to be. If Mom didn’t like something, I knew it right away. And nine times out of ten, Mom was right. If you’re doing something that your mother wouldn’t approve of, stop it. It’s probably not what you should be doing.
I say that because it fits very well with something we read earlier. Remember that Romans 13:12 (NIV) says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” What that’s getting at is the same thing as looking for your mother’s approval. It means that you’re supposed to live as though your deeds are available for all to see. Even when your not in public, even when you’re doing things behind closed doors, you should act in ways that demonstrate that you a follower of Jesus Christ.
That’s a great idea because guess what? Some day, all of your deeds will be examined in the light of day. One days the books will be open at the gates of the kingdom of God and the way that you have lived your life will be laid bare for all to see. And upon that basis you will receive your rewards in the kingdom. So wake up. It really does matter what your mother thinks.
The night is nearly over and the day is almost here. It’s time to wake up and take a close look at what God is saying about how you live your life. And if that takes a kick in the butt, it might just be the best kick you’ll ever receive.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Grace and Glory, we approach this first Sunday in Advent with hope and anticipation. We remember the birth of your Son, Jesus, in Bethlehem. We celebrate that he is born in our hearts each day. We look toward the day when he will come again to defeat the powers of darkness and inaugurate a new light which will shine upon Creation with peace and justice.
Enable us, O God of Light, to put aside the sinful natures that tempt us. Lead us to your path and strengthen us against the calls to fall away. Encourage us to walk the road of your making.
We pray for a world that needs to see the glory of your light in Jesus. We pray for the people of Standing Rock as they make their voices known. We also pray for guidance that this pipeline dispute will come to a peaceful and beneficial conclusion for all people.
Our prayers are also lifted for the people of Cuba as they mourn the death of strong yet controversial leader in Fidel Castro. Whatever people might have thought of him, he was a world figure for many decades. Bless all Cubans everywhere as they discover what comes next.
We pray for Canadian troops around the world. Strengthen them and keep them safe against those who would like to rule through tyranny and injustice. We also keep in mind our other soldiers, sailors and air men who are seeking to preserve the peace, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
We lift up in prayer the sick of this congregation and community. We think especially of Soham Lane, Helen Upcott, Millicent Wormald and Sharon Chalmers. May your Spirit so rest upon them that they may find rest, peace and healing.
As we approach Christmas, we pray for those who find this season to be a difficult time of year. Heal their wounds. Calm their fear. Reassure their spirits and hold them in your love. Grant us your peace. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 27, 2016 / Advent 1
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come with hope and expectation!
We come with the hope of new life and freedom!
We come with hope to meet our God!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Expectation, Creation groans in the presence of your holiness. All the earth is filled with hope at the sound of your coming. We eagerly await the arrival of the Messiah who brings peace and reconciliation to the world and to our relationships. Come to us now. Come to us in our need. Come to us in our pain and bless us with an overwhelming sense of your Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Hope, humanity shudders in the presence of your holiness. Despite your promises of peace, we continue to live in separation and suffering. We blame you for our problems when most of our difficulties are the product of our own sinfulness and poor choices. Forgive us for turning away from your blessings. Forgive us for ignoring the demands of the Christ. Cleanse us that we may be born again in your holy love. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Creation groans under the weight of sin but God offers relief. We look with hope to the one who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Hear the Good News. In Christ, we have our salvation and reconciliation with God. Our sins are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We thank you, God of Creation, for giving us your Son. Enable us to give our lives back to you. We give now these tokens of your blessings in the hope that all that we have may be used for your name. Amen.
In faith, we walk from darkness into light. God is our light and salvation and there is no need to fear. Let us go forward with courage and confidence to do the work of Christ.