I took this picture in July of 2005, as I drove by a South African township while there for a reconciliation project.
I was going to attempt writing an articulate Advent reflection on the life and witness of Nelson Mandela, who to me embodied so much of the radical forgiveness, transformation and reconciliation Jesus Christ was all about. I was going to reference Isaiah 61:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
I was going to quote some of Mandela’s greatest sayings, especially around how he himself was transformed to a place of being able to forgive those who had made hatred systemic through Apartheid. I was, perhaps, even going to have us think about what such a transformation might look like in our own lives, and how God might be calling us to change. At one point, I even considered posting a picture I found of Nelson Mandela’s Methodist Church membership card. (Goodness, what a typical thing for a minister to do!)
That was what I was going to write. And then I read this piece
by Musa Okwonga, posted on Facebook by a poetic young person I used to work with in Belfast. It is not an easy piece to read.
The bottom line is this: Nelson Mandela is not mine to twist into a witty Advent devotion. He’s not mine to make a savior or a villain, he’s not mine to make a terrorist or a liberator. He was who he was — fully and completely — and the world will never be the same because of it. But what he came to do is not yet done.
The oppressed still need good news.
The brokenhearted still need to be brought into loving community.
Those held captive by hate and poverty still need liberty.
The prisoners of racism still need released.
The Lord’s favor still needs to be proclaimed equally on all.
Though, perhaps, God’s vengeance needs to be proclaimed on some of us.
And today, especially, there needs to be comfort for those who mourn.
So, I have no witty words or powerful tribute today. Mandela was not mine — he was, and is, God’s.