Reflection on Nelson Mandela and Christmas from South Africa

Isobel de Gruchy of South Africa writes her Christmas poem this year in the shadow of the death of Nelson Mandela. Embedded within her reflection are questions that we all ask — in every place and each year.

A Death and a Birth        Xmas at Vermaaklikheid 2013

Occasionally there is born a person
who lives a life – not of tedious insignificance –
nor of the selfish pursuit of power and wealth
which leaves others crushed and broken,
but one who lives a life
of triumph over oppression,
forgiveness over revenge
and unity-building over the desire of so many
to divide and control:
a person, who –  in doing this,
turns his own people’s,
in fact the whole world’s, denigration,
into adulation and praise.

And we have just witnessed the death of such a person –
Nelson Mandela –
and we have basked in his fame
and claimed him as our own.

Nelson Mandela, who unlike King Canute,
turned back the tide:
he turned back the tide of hatred and violence
directed at him and his people,
and turned around the image that to forgive
and talk to your enemies is weakness.

And now we celebrate a birth-
join together around the earth to celebrate this birth
this birth of Jesus Christ –
but why?
Jesus failed where Mandela succeeded.
His life was cut short – his message –
so similar to Mandela’s terminated.
he died unknown in a despised place –
and yet – and yet,
we celebrate this birth because
it is a fulcrum of history,
it was first to turn the tide,
it turned our values around,
it was embodied in Nelson Mandela,
and embodied in others down the years,
so why do so few respond
and why did Nelson Mandela?
It is waiting to be embodied in me and in you
and in each and every person.
It needs to be embodied so that it can turn back
the surging tide of evil.
25 December 2013

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2 Responses to Reflection on Nelson Mandela and Christmas from South Africa

  1. Nancy Rockwell says:

    The words ring true and are heartfelt. The only exception, for me, are the words ‘his own people’s’ denigration – for black South Africans never denigrated him, and white South Africans did not consider him part of their people, before he became famous. And South African statistics from two months ago show white South Africans growing richer and black South Africans growing poorer, since the end of apartheid. A ticking clock, this.

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