Advent is not an easy time. A time of darkness, expectation, anticipation, hope, promise, waiting . . . .
Each of us encounters Advent in a deeply personal way. What is the darkness that encircles you? The expectation that lifts your spirits? The waiting that both tests and builds your patience?
These qualities also permeate our common life. We share these emotions with others in our congregation as we raise our voices in plaintive song, “O come, O come Emanuel…” as we light our candles … as we watch the youngest among us enact the eternal story.
All this is part of a larger story – God’s encounter with humanity. And occasionally, a person emerges whose life teaches that story; a person whose life inspires millions – even billions – of people to rethink what is possible; to reshape the world we were given; to reconcile even the most enduring enmities; and to do all this with such grace and joy that the lives of all who witness are enlarged, their generosity of spirit increased.
Nelson Mandela was such a person. If ever there was a person whose life was an Advent story, it is he. His emergence from jail and ascent to become his country’s political leader and the world’s moral leader – it is as unexpected as any story ever told. The people, astonished by what was unfolding, turned to spiritual leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who imagined and then led such miracles as truth and reconciliation commissions.
In Advent, we hope for, we anticipate, we expect miracles. Advent is not a time to be satisfied by remembering the miracle that was revealed 2,000 years ago. In embracing that miracle, we must open our hearts to the miracles – the possibilities – that God places before us today. Perhaps the most arresting of all of Mandela’s distinctive qualities was his humility – he insisted that he was an ordinary man. As we recall with ceaseless admiration the accomplishments of this extraordinary, ordinary man, let us use this Advent season to give ourselves over to God’s invitation to expect, anticipate, hope and prepare.
Yes – ordinary people are called to – and can – accomplish extraordinary things. And as was the case amidst the darkness that was South Africa in the early 1960s, in the face of our own present darkness, we must.
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