3 Advent A 12/15/13 – Miracles Take Time
Nelson Mandela’s life story reminds us that working for peace and justice requires among many things conviction and patience. It is a never ending mission that sometimes also requires miracles. He never gave up on his desire to free people of color from the bonds of apartheid. Even while in prison Mandela did not doubt that he was the equal of any human being. Nor did he doubt the oppressive racist regime of South Africa would be overthrown.
Today we read about John the Baptist who, on the other hand, apparently had some doubts about Jesus of Nazareth. According to Raymond Brown, John was the “angelic messenger called by God to lead Israel to the promised land. John was the new Elijah sent to prepare Israel for God’s action.” 
Now why would John doubt who Jesus was? John, who was locked up in jail for being a community organizer, was probably impatient. He wanted tangible signs that would prove Jesus was the One who would save Israel. Maybe John had heard the passage from Isaiah, the one we heard this morning. After the exile the Israelites were freed from slavery. That was to be a time when the wilderness would rejoice and bloom.
However, the people living in John’s time were still oppressed and the impatient herald was looking for miracles. Maybe, in frustration, he even may have added a word to Psalm 146, the one we sang this morning, come Lord and save us … now!
But the effect of miracles are not always immediately noticed. Rabbi Peter Rubinstein says miracles can be incremental. The full experience of a miracle may take some time. The work that Jesus did while here on earth is still not finished. Mandela’s work in South Africa was just the dawn of a new day of racial equality.
But South Africa is not so far away. Our homeland is still a desert place where racial, gender and economic inequality sap our strength. Hunger, unjust wages and broken immigration laws feed our anger, steal our dreams. The lamb still does not sleep with the wolf here in America. Why wouldn’t we be skeptical like John the Baptist? Was Jesus the Coming One, the one who would save us?
Even closer to home … do we ever doubt or mistrust our parents, our co-workers, our spouses and partners? Are we impatient that things are not happening the way we want them, when we want them to, to at home, at work, in school or church? Are we suspicious of people who are different from us in one way or another, whose values represent viewpoints that are different from ours?
American playwright and social critic James Baldwin once wrote in so many words that doubt and suspicion make space for imagination and hope. Mandela encouraged the people of South Africa to transcend their past and not wallow in it.  He trusted them to bypass revenge and work for reconciliation. We Catholics trust one another to transcend the issues that prevent the desert from blooming. We can work together along with other believers, as a union of peacemakers.
Some of you may recall that today was once known as Gaudete Sunday. A time to rejoice over the flowers that have bloomed in a parched land. Joan Horgan, campus minister at the College of St. Rose, describes the “unrelenting nature of kindness” as something to be joyful about. She writes that the subversive actions of Jesus — eating with an outcast, speaking to a woman, healing someone in need anytime, reminding someone of their dignity and value — still inspire and drive us to be kind to one another.
This Christmas time of festivity and prayer is an opportunity for us to bring relief from the imperfections that weigh upon us. The call from a kind and just God and the cries from others who are hurting compel us to be less doubtful and more hopeful that miracles are possible. It just takes time to notice them.
1 Brown, Raymond E. Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008) 360
2 Siedman, Dov in Friedman, T. “Why Mandela Was Unique” in NY Times, 12/11/13, p. A31