Winthrop Wesley celebrated Advent early this year fitting in with the college calendar and so my sense of which Sunday we’re on in Advent is all out of whack. I had never done this before but a campus ministry friend told me about it and I thought we could give it a shot. It amaze me how much it fit to talk about Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love around exam season with lots of papers, projects, and tests looming, some people ready to be home while others dread it, and all of the highs and lows of community – those ready to hurl their roommate and that want to squeeze out every drop of time with their friends before leaving for the break.
On our last night together, we looked at the candle of LOVE and talked about the last word. We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in our argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for us, for all the world, and all of creation. During this season talking about the last word has a lot of connotations for me. For some, we wonder if we’ll ever get the last word on anything. Things seem a bit out of control with questions about work or family or bills or the future or health. It often doesn’t feel like we get a say in anything and we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course.
For others, we think of some of our friends or family or co-workers or maybe even ourselves as ones who thrive with having that last word and can’t imagine life without getting it. I think of the television show Modern Family and the hilarity that ensued during the holiday episode this year between the “Realists” and the “Dreamers.” But as the episode pointed out, you need a little bit of both. We need each other – both realists and dreamers. We have ones who are ready to concede the argument and ones that will fight to the bitter end trying to get the last word – but we all need to be somewhere in the middle. We shouldn’t bowl over just because we’re “Christians” and let people walk and talk all over us, but we also shouldn’t be the ones that are raising to the loudest voice so that our point can be heard over all the masses not caring about the casualties that may surround us.
As some of you know, my brother Josh, is the rebel in our family. I don’t think he has a corner deal on this and we’re all the rebel at times over such things, but in the delicious rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson, he’s the lone Clemson tiger. Y’all know things have gotten a little tricky these past weeks with that rivalry and I’m not going to even begin to talk about the game, the history, the record, who said what, or who’s got the better mascot, because it sure as heck is not worth all of the angst and passion and pride that we all put into it. Josh is not the most die-hard and orange Clemson fan and I’m not the most die-hard and garnet Gamecock fan, so we can probably have this conversation easier than some of the hot heads, but let’s just say there’s been some thought-provoking discussion over football and faith and where in the world pastors and people of faith should fall on these topics and how they should present themselves not just in “real life” but on facebook and twitter as well. You can go round and round and as people start trying to throw grenades at each other trying to get the last word, it feels like nobody wins. That’s what I like and am challenged by in debating with Josh. Neither one of us wants to give in and both of us have the natural tendency to want to get that last word in, but we also take our faith seriously and we don’t want to unduly hurt the other person or slam the other “side.” Does that mean that there’s no time that we don’t get angry or want to rail at the other person? No. But it does mean that we hold each other accountable not just to our conversation and “the facts” as we think we see them, but also to the core values that we share. It drives me crazy but it’s also something that I rely on and am challenged by as we can call each other out!
In this Advent season, it’s important to realize that the One who holds the real last word – not just to some football rivalry or presidential debate or late night talk show snaffoo, but to all things – is the One who’s coming that we celebrate and await for the second time during this Advent season. In the fourth Sunday of Advent I really love all the texts. I know I’m biased – I love Advent in general, but I really like that all the texts are talking about God being with us and the impossible happening and Holy mysteries and saying yes even when things look far-fetched and unlikely. Love it! (Oh I should probably tell you what they are – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:46b-55, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38)
You may be wondering where in the heck did I get the last word from that? I didn’t mention any revelation passages. A couple of things. The first in verse 33 talking about Jesus, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The second in verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” There is no end to his kingdom. He will have the last word, not in a Jesus juke kind of way, but in a beautiful, Christ-like, kingdom of God, eternal life kind of way….it really does mean eternal after all. I love verse 37 too because it’s not saying nothing is impossible for God or in God even though those can be true as well, but nothing is impossible with God. If we go to God with these things that trouble us, these things that we wrestle with, these things that drive us crazy or make us beyond impassioned, than with God we can find a way to be those Christ-like people in the world. With God we can be the Jesus that the world sees and knows. With God we don’t have to worry about the last word or who holds the speaking stick, because it’s not us and it’s not them, it’s the one who created us and who is creating all things new.
I fight for the last word more often than you probably know and some of you know me well. It gets on my nerves when people talk down to people or about a book or a movie or a cause act like know it all’s. And there’s a part of me that than wants to say – well more figuratively – I want to blow them out of the water. Now again, I don’t believe that “Christians” just sit back on their hands and close their mouths and just let the world keep spinning, quite the contrary. However, I do know that often what I’m reacting to is my own pride or my own issues. Hello intramural basketball! That’s the other thing that’s critical in this with God idea. If we’re speaking with God, if we’re living our lives with God, if we’re juggling all of our demands with God, than for some reason I think that we’ll live our lives differently than if we just go it alone with our own sense of righteousness and justice. Because I don’t know about you, but for me, there are times I can look back in conversations or experiences and I know it wasn’t God – it was me, going it alone, and spinning out. But if we are with God, then nothing is impossible. Not worries about family or friends or work or what we’re going to do with our lives or how we should spend our money or who we need to seek forgiveness or how we’re going to let our lights shine.
So as I think about the holidays and all of the parties and the family and times of conversation and fun that are coming and I know, knowing our family and friends that things will be said with humor and love but always a little controversy and fun with so many folks and different ideas, may we realize and know that there are promises and mysteries during this Advent and that God’s kingdom will reign forever and we can be apart of that knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that we don’t have to carry all of the world’s burdens on our shoulders, but as we do the work of God, we can feel sure and certain that the last word comes from God – a God of grace and joy and hope and peace and great, great love!