Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Allen Robinson
Memphis, Tennessee
December 3, 2000
The First Sunday of Advent

Nelson Mandela: The Life of a Watcher!
The Rev. Allen F. Robinson

Gospel: Luke 21:25-31

"Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
~Luke 21:28

There are perhaps very few people in this world who are better able to understand the power and true meaning of an Advent experience than one such as Nelson Mandela. Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to hear President Mandela speak at the Temple of Deliverance during his stay here in Memphis after having received the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. I found myself in the company of a sacred and holy man. I was moved to tears upon hearing the horrors, the pain, the struggles and the hardships Nelson experienced during his 27 years of imprisonment on Robin Island. For 27 years, he had to adapt his life in such ways that would provide him light in the center of despair; hope in the center of hopelessness. His imprisonment undoubtedly was filled with heavy tears and broken hearts…yet, Nelson endured and persevered knowing that one day, God would provide him an Advent moment.

Perhaps, knowing that there was such a great amount of unwavering support for him, not only in South Africa, but all over the world, gave him the strength and courage to persevere during his incarceration--to watch and wait. In a very real sense, the world became Nelson's source of inspiration, it became his Advent. The voice of the world became a voice of liberation--a voice of freedom. The voice of the world became the liberating voice of God. It was that voice--the voice of
God-- that allowed the fetters to drop away from his wrists and ankles and the prison doors to fling open, pointing the way to freedom. This same voice, that called us into being and constantly calls us into relationship, also called one who had been imprisoned by his own country to now lead that same country into a new era as its first elected black president.

The life of Nelson Mandela provides us with a glimpse of what the Advent season is all about. The season is not about celebration, but waiting on the One whom the world would come to celebrate--Jesus the Christ. When President Mandela received his freedom from Robin Island, it became an "incarnational" moment for him. A moment in which he could now celebrate and appreciate his 27 years of being in a state of waiting, while never once wavering in his faith in God and people. Knowing that there was something much greater at stake than he or anyone else could have imagined, President Mandela decided not to allow his imprisonment to break his relationship with God. Mandela refused to allow human hands to capture his godly spirit. And so while some may feel that four weeks of waiting may seem like an eternity--they should ask President Mandela if he would agree!

One may look at Luke's Gospel and apply it to the life of a single individual, as in the case of President Mandela. Luke opens with these words, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity …of what is coming upon the world." This passage leaves us with great uncertainty about the condition and future of the world. Luke seems to indicate that there will come a time in which the world will become so distant from the ways of God that it will "tremble with fear." The world will turn its face away from God and will enter a period of great uncertainty. Luke's passage also echoes the life of one who for 27 years lived a life of great uncertainty. Not knowing what each day would bring and if his oppressors would seek to maliciously extinguish his life must have been a time of great uncertainty for Nelson Mandela. If one were to look at the time preceding Nelson's imprisonment and read the signs of the times--"the sun, stars and moon"-- concerning his life, many believed them to be a bleak forecast. Nevertheless, Nelson took this time of reflection, consecrated it to God, and made it into an Advent moment--a time of waiting and trusting.

We all must address the signs of the times in our own lives. Now, I'm not suggesting that you go out and call Ms. Cleo of the Psychic Hotline! However, I am suggesting that during this season of Advent, we consecrate this time to God and make it holy. We all have those times in our lives where the forecast--the "signs" --are bleak and troublesome. Either we can be as the Gospel mentions, "distressed," "perplexed" and "faint with fear," or we can do what President Mandela did, which is to reject all of those possibilities and make a conscious decision to "raise our heads," knowing that our redemption is drawing near. For 27 years, even during those harshest of moments, Nelson "raised his head" because he knew that his redemption was drawing near.

The Gospel calls for you and me to raise our heads during this season of Advent because our redemption--the liberating voice of God-- is drawing near. If we are but willing to wait patiently on the Lord, God will hear our cry and will answer us. The eminent theologian Karl Barth, author of the massive 14-volume Church Dogmatics, writes these words in a chapter titled "Man in His Determination as the Covenant Partner of God":

"Real man lives with God as His covenant-partner.
For God has created him to participate in the
history in which God is at work with him and he
with God; to be His partner in this common
history of the covenant. He created him
as his
covenant partner."

(Understand that Karl Barth wrote at a time in which the use of the word "man" is meant to universally represent humankind.)

During his imprisonment, his 27-year season of Advent filled with endless watching and waiting, Nelson Mandela became a covenant partner with God. For God called Nelson, as God does each and every one of us, to participate in God's redeeming work in history. And since we are covenant-partners, co-creators with God, we are to look to God as our source of inspiration during those seemingly endless periods of watching and waiting in our own lives. Only when we are in partnership with God are we truly able to "raise our heads" and acknowledge that our redemption has drawn near. To have the insight to know and recognize that God's redemption has come near to us requires the wisdom of God to be in each of us, and the imparting of God's wisdom to us may only come about through a partnership with God.

In this season of Advent, I pray that you will have the strength and insight, as did Nelson Mandela, to listen for the liberating voice of God to free you from your own imprisonment. That your season of Advent--however long it may be-- will be filled with strength, inspiration and encouragement. Then and only then are we able to better appreciate the One who is to come into the world. Amen.

Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Luke 21: 25-31

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near." NRSV

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