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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent One

December 4, 2011
Therefore, keep awake – and, what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Good morning and welcome.

Well, this is a Sunday I know I have been waiting for. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. Bombers fans everywhere have waited a very long time, over 20 years, to bring home the coveted cup. This year’s team has been compared with one that won the last cup, so we stand a good chance. It has also been a good year for Grant Park High School where, they, too, have waited. Last month, they were rewarded with the school’s first championship, and Brenda and I were thrilled that our son Michael was part of that history. He will not soon forget that.

We are in a new year, did you know that? It seems out of place to be wishing folks a Happy New Year, but in fact the church’s new year begins today. That’s why at times we have trouble finding the readings in the lectionary. You have to remember the church year starts always in November. It is Advent, and the season of Advent is all about waiting. We wait for the coming birth of the Messiah. We wait for the Lord’s second coming. Yet, just as it is hard to wait for the next championship to come home, it is also hard to wait for the coming of Christ into our midst. There is much struggle and pain today—wars, violence, sickness, family strife to name only a few challenges. That is, unless we prepare. If we should come home with the Grey Cup after today, that will be great…but it didn’t just happen. There was much done ahead in order to prepare for exactly this day.

Forget about the many losing seasons, especially the one where we had to fire a head coach here. Forget about the 2010 season under a newly minted head coach of the Bombers. I believe we went 4 and 14 that year. Then, this year, we started the journey back to respectability as we won many more games than we lost. Our defense became known as the best in the land, and fans here began to chant “Swaggerville,” — even the Grant Park Pirates, who borrowed the phrase, chanted “GP Swag! GP Swag! until the end of their championship game.

All of the losses taught us something about the nature of football and of the team mentality and of hard work, discipline and focus. Sure, we might lose one game, but the next one the Bombers would come back and handily defeat a team like Hamilton or Montreal or Toronto. As the Bombers waited for their opportunity, they prepared by playing and learning. This, I believe teaches us something about the season of Advent and our faith.

Advent is all about preparation while we wait. All you have to do is look at the Gospel reading. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware; keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”

Just as Michael and all of the football players on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Grant Park Pirates football team used all of their experiences to learn and prepare for the trip to the championship game, so, too, does the Church have to look at preparations. In Advent, we are looking at preparation for comings. We prepare for the coming of Christ, for the celebration at Christmas of the birth of the Christ child and the birth of Christ in our own hearts. We look to the coming of Christ a second time as He promised. In the Gospel, again, we are encouraged to be alert, to ensure we are ready for when Christ comes again.

So, then, what can we do to prepare?

1. Well, if you look to the liturgy, we light the Advent candle each week as a reminder. It will point the way to how much time is left before Christmas.

2. When you look to the outside, you will see many in the neighborhood put up Christmas lights and trees and even hang wreaths. Each of these has a Christian understanding—the lights reminding us of the light of Christ, the trees being evergreen and representing the eternal life we are promised, and the wreath similar in the circle having no start and no end. As people, we are seen in great numbers in malls theses days, searching for exactly the right gift. Anyone in the malls for Black Friday searching for deals? What is that all about? Far more than a secular exercise, at this time of year, I would hope it would be for us a reminder of the need to give beyond ourselves. We give to help others, we see a need and provide. This is the sacrificial piece of the Christian faith, though it may not often be thought of. I would also say that each gift that is purchased is likely done with great consideration of the other and may take some time to find.

3. Perhaps the most important way we prepare in this season is intensely personal, through our life of prayer. Christ is present and alive today and He is present in our hearts. Through prayer, we come into direct contact with our God, with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Through prayer, we are led by the Holy Spirit to mission or ministry. That mission or ministry will by necessity be one of servanthood, as we pattern our lives after the life of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. We are moved into action, into servant ministry through the Word, so at this time of year, we often have a study or time of prayer. Beyond Sunday, we can join in study such as any of the Adult Education or Confirmation opportunities that start Tuesday at noon here at the church. In our time of prayer, in preparation, we will look at our inner life as a whole, asking ourselves, “How is my relationship with Christ? Am I continuing to pray, to read the Bible, to attend study, to reach out to others? Is there anything in my life that needs changing to accommodate my life of faith? Do I need to apologize to someone? Do I need to accept forgiveness? Do I need to forgive myself for anything that may have happened recently? The letter to the Romans says this “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably, as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.”

Instead, says Paul, we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. When Paul says “the flesh,” he means anything we as humans do that will take us away from concentrating on God and His love. To put on the Lord Jesus, we need to first acknowledge and accept Him as a genuine part of our lives. To put on Jesus is to understand that living the Christ-filled life is living a life filled with grace, as we heard in today’s epistle to the Corinthians. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul wrote his letter to the early church to remind them they were imperfect and needed the grace and forgiveness freely and unconditionally given by God. He wanted them to know that just as the football teams learned from their mistakes and preparations for the big game, Christians can face an unknown and unpredictable future in confidence. No matter what losses they may face, no matter what struggles, no matter what fears, the Lord Jesus would be with them and strengthen them and prepare them for the journey ahead.

Of course, there will be a judgment time at the end times, and our Gospels point to that. Yet Jesus is the One who will judge and we can be confident He is leading us in faith through the Holy Spirit. We know He is leading when we know there is love and the evidence in our lives as pointed out again by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22) If you see these attributes in people of faith, you know the Spirit is at work. I see these attributes all around at this time of year, but particularly here at St. James as we held yet another Christmas Bazaar for the neighborhood.

Therefore, “keep awake” says Jesus, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

May we all be found awake and working for our Lord, spreading the Good News in our neighborhood and world. And may God bless us all as we journey in faith together! Now….Go Bombers Go!!!!

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