This is a syndicated post from Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse. [Read the original article...]
Second Sunday of Advent
(Click here for readings)
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Advent is all about preparing the way of the Lord. And one of the best ways to prepare the way of the Lord is by getting out of the way of the Lord.
St. John is a wonderful example of this as he reminds his listeners: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”
John was a stump in the world’s garden, but a beautiful shoot in the Lord’s secret garden.
Just a few days ago the world learned of the death of another stump, Nelson Mandela. It is hard to categorize a life well lived. But based on today’s readings, I would have to say he was a voice of one crying out in the desert and a shoot from a stump (Is 11:1).
A shoot from a stump. Born into royalty, Mandela chose to leave the world of privilege behind and enter the world of discrimination and segregation. I would call this type of world an ultra-manicured world, and South Africa was definitely one of the last of our times. Manicured ? Yes, because it was maintained so meticulously - so scientifically – the stuff of novels like the Hunger Games. If only it weren’t so very real.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at an elite black institution, Mandela headed to an all-white University were he studied law. I find it interesting how as a young man he studied law while the laws were increasingly racist, and became a lawyer while the legal system was radically unjust. Where did he get his ideas of freedom? Where else but from outside. Or better yet, from above.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge… (Is 11:2-3).
From the outside looking in. Apartheid existed in South Africa for forty-six years, from1948-1994 (not long, and no where near as long as slavery and segregation in the United States of America). The language surrounding it was purely Orwellian. Segregation was based on status, not race, and the world of South Africa was divided into two great groups: “Europeans” and “Non-Europeans.” Hence, black people were not black people but “Non-Europeans”, while white people were considered “Europeans.”
I have no doubts Apartheid would have lasted longer if the people from the outside looking in were not becoming more and more color blind. Mandela, a Christian, who was inspired by Jesus Christ, chose the path of non-violence, insisting on a forgiving South Africa as well as an all inclusive South Africa; that is, inclusive and forgiving towards the “Europeans.”
“Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide…the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them…”
Appearances can be deceiving. To the government, Mandela was an ugly stump. To the Lord, he was a stump with a shoot sprouting from it. When the government sentenced him to life in prison, Mandela taught his guards that a man’s got to know his limitations. Because of his faith, Mandela knew man’s limitations, especially those of his persecutors.
History has shown, time and time again, that the meek and humble of heart shall inherit the land! Yes, the Lord loves to take stumps and do something amazing with them. Why? Because stumps usually do not put up a fight! He can pour His Will all over them, and watch them grow into something amazing.
Poverty, as well as wealth, can be very deceiving. The uneducated can easily be underestimated. But the rags on someone’s back, as well as their scars, can tell a lot about a person. To the Roman Empire, John the Baptist was a nothing: a poor, uneducated and half-naked man. He was a stump, planted somewhere in the middle of the desert: useless and meaningless. But to the Lord, he was an off-shoot to something bigger than carpe diem: He was the shoot that signaled a trend.
Christians are called to be trendsetters. This is what Nelson Mandela was. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was. So, whatever happened to us? When in the world did we stop being trendsetters for the world and in the name of Jesus Christ? Chances are…it all began when we felt like we had something to lose.
Oh death, where is thy sting?
By our baptism, we have been born again. We can never die. We have nothing to lose. Our baptism is our Lord’s way of dousing His life giving graces over our stumps. His prayer is that it will one day produce shoots that will last forever.