As is the way during advent, it is definitely colder and darker and more wintery than last Sunday, so we light the second candle.
It seems most appropriate that the weekend our readings turn to John the Baptist, the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela. The year he entered jail I was two. The year he came out I celebrated my second anniversary as a priest. And yet when he came out, he did not come out angry, vindictive, and bitter. 27 years in prison and yet he remained a man of truth, a man of hope.
St. Paul describes God as "the God of endurance and encouragement."
The word translated encouragement here has at its root the image of someone who stands at your side providing constant comfort. Imagine the person you love most standing beside you with their arm around you. That is our God. And it is that faith that enables the endurance to which we are called.
Nelson Mandela said, "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying." While I am not canonizing him, the truth is, that is our understanding of a saint. Mother Teresa put it slightly differently, "God has not called us to be successful. He has called us to be faithful."
We should not forget that John was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. And according to St. Mark the plot against Jesus started after he healed the man with the withered hand.
If we strive to be good Christians, if we remain people who speak the truth, we should expect suffering. But with God by our side we can be people who fight the good fight and simultaneously remain people of peace. Knowing that in the "a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse."