On Thursday I came home after spending the evening with the Sea Cadets out in Mildenhall as the town welcomed Santa and turned on the Christmas lights. I was dressed very warmly – the uniform’s wooly pully is thick and I was wearing thermals plus the outdoor all-weather coat. My wardrobe was necessary because Thursday was the day the storms lashed the country and I wanted to be as warm and dry as possible should it hit. As it turned out, the rains stayed north but the temperature dropped so that by the time I arrived home, my feet were frozen and I was chilled. Still, it’d’ve been worse if I hadn’t been prepared. Whether it’s sandbags, sea defences, warm clothes, we like to be prepared for the storms that gather. It’s prudent sensible living.
As I thawed out, the ‘breaking news’ came through that Nelson Mandela had died. So I watched the news on TV. If other things had happened, they weren’t being mentioned for this death was the news for the moment. This death was significant news not just for the country in which he was a prisoner and later it’s president but for the world. The news programme itself was extended and since then I have encountered on TV, the newspapers, and in discussions substantial ongoing reporting on the subsequent events (the reaction of South Africans, the funeral preparations, his family’s reactions, responses from around the world, etc). It seems everyone has a commentary on Mandela’s life.
On a long walk people recall various things. What has intrigued me is how people view Man-dela’s life as, it seems to me, in three phases: before prison, prison, after prison and whether the man who walked that path remained the same person. It seems to me that the answer is ‘no’ in the ongoing struggle for justice and peace. What has so impressed the world is the lack of rancour and bitterness, the respect for all persons, and the desire to reach out to all people so that they wouldn’t oppose each other but work together to solve the problems that affected them. The man who entered prison was and wasn’t the same man who walked out. In a world that is generally ageist, he reminded us that experiences often do need decades to form wisdom. I’ve heard a Mandela quote these last few days that tickles Lutheran ears (I presume it’s true, I can’t find the source) – I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying. He saw the storms and worked to minimise the damage they caused and for that the world honours him.
In this time of Advent – a time of watching and waiting – we know that there are storms far worse than tornados or tidal surges or even tyranny and injustice. There are the storms unleashed by our sin and by the unseen principalities and powers that view us as prey. These foes are within or hidden. What we need is someone who can still the storms themselves – tell them to ‘shut up’ – so that in the peace and quiet that then comes, we might not only thank the ‘storm silencer’ but follow him confident that when death knocks us off our feet, life continues. All the signs of Advent point us to Jesus. And in the meantime, yes let’s set about serving those around us in the roles we have and work towards peace and justice for everyone. — GS