Mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, I am intensely grateful for his perfectly imperfect example of a faithful life. Like most of us, he struggled with violence as an answer to violence, hate as an answer to hate, and division as an answer to division. But then Mandela change. In that shift to understanding responsibility as peace building, to making dignity for all real by embodying dignity, to supporting processes to bring about reconciliation which is still in process, because we cannot heal a history of hate and violence and be without struggle in a few years -- in that shift, we were given another example of a faithful life, true to himself, his land, his peoples, his faithful struggles and faithful promises.
During Advent christians are looking back and anticipating forward at the same time, grateful and wary with the themes of judgment and purification that are in the texts at this time of year. "You brood of vipers" is going to be read again this Sunday, and we're back to wrestling -- does this text apply to me? how much so? how much is social commentary? And then we reach the big question, the one judgment texts really are for: what is my responsibility for the failings of the world I live in?
Are we responsible for poverty if we are not poor? Are we responsible for poverty if we are? Are we responsible for the legacy of slavery? Or for human trafficking today? The questions make me want to fiddle with bows and lights and decorations and planning meals and gifts of service and just about anything else than to wrestle with my responsibilities I haven't perfectly addressed, especially the responsibilities that are not easy fixes, the ones that require a long haul, from one lifetime to the next, like ending poverty or addressing the inequities of colonialism and slavery's legacy.
It takes faith to take the long view and pick up our responsibilities that cannot be wrapped up and presented or checked off a list within a year or two or ten, but take one lifetime passing to another to address. Those are the responsibilities of love, of peace building, of nurturing the earth and nurturing one another, the responsibilities to flow in and out of one day to the next, the responsibilities that we have simply by being born and belonging to right here and now, which also means belonging to the past and to the future.
In accepting those responsibilities that are ever with us, in tending them bit by bit, day by day, together and apart, it helps to be able to remember folks who did that extraordinarily well. These are our heroes and heroines, the people who inspire us to bear up and bear one another with compassion and accountability, love and generosity, with laughter and with playfulness, for all the heroes and heroines that I know who were in this for the long haul know how to refresh their own spirit and those around them with enjoying what is good and shedding new light on a situation through good humor.
Sometimes Advent is spoken of as a time of waiting, which makes many of us ask, okay, how is that different from every day? It isn't. Just like our waiting in every day, we're not passive recipients waiting to be filled by Love and Light, but active agents, who have responsibilities in our waiting, responsibilities to reach for and create a more mercifully just, loving, peaceful, and healthy world. And in those moments when we have joy, when peace has been achieved for a while, when merciful justice prevails, when reconciliation begins, when the waterways are cleared and the land restored, when reparations are made and accepted, we have some hours of what is promised right then, some encouragement to carry on freshened in our highest resolve. The Holy is already everywhere. The question for us is how are we taking responsibility to make way and make room to welcome the Holy in, to achieve our faithful promises, to bend the arc of time toward lovingkindness and merciful justice and a peace we cannot understand fully right now?
In our mourning this week, let us also remember why we grieve, and resolve again to live so responsibly ourselves, living in the daily struggle, making mistakes and making good judgments and risking failure for the sake of justice and love and peace.