The outpouring of tributes for Nelson Mandela this Advent season has underscored the world’s hunger for leaders and for reconcilers. Although he began his political career as an armed revolutionary dedicated to overthrowing an oppressive racist system, Mandela evolved into a political leader capable of bringing together enemies. He eschewed revenge for reconciliation. He has become a symbol of what leaders can do, and the extravagant words eulogizing his memory seem in part a critique of a world today that lacks such leaders.
We see a similar hunger in the world’s fascination with Pope Francis. Pontiff for nine months, he is a man “from the ends of the earth” with a remarkably common touch. Here is a man who lives what he preaches in a visible and direct way, who embraces the outcast, who welcomes the outsider, who humbly describes himself as a sinner.
We do not believe that this enthusiasm, which includes so many people who are not Catholic or even Christian, is simply the result of friendly press coverage. This enthusiasm reflects a hunger for leaders who live what they preach, who are servant leaders leading with humility and love.
Although he was God, Jesus allowed himself to be raised and taught, to work and to serve. And in his actions and his words, he told us what we we were expected to do.
We commemorate this week the birth of the Messiah. In a backwater of the Roman empire, in a small town, in a manger, a babe was born. Yet the impact of this birth on the world continues to reverberate to this day.
God became man. Often this fact gets lost amid the tinsel and the trees, but it’s true. At one particular moment in human history, he became one of us. And in this incarnation, this powerful intersection of the human with the divine, the temporal with the eternal, the God-man Jesus came to show us, through his life and his teachings, how we are to live.
The Savior of the world came in humility — born not in a palace, but in a simple dwelling in a small town. Although he was God, he allowed himself to be raised and taught, to work and to serve. And in his actions and his words, he told us what we were expected to do.
He focused on the poor, the sick, the dying. He embraced the outcast and, through his parables and lessons, challenged us to do the same.
He resisted the devil’s temptations to power and wealth, and he humbled himself to such an extent that he was convicted as a criminal and died painfully on the cross.
And from such humility and such sacrifice arose a movement that became a Church. It proclaimed that the Messiah was not a king and not a conqueror, but a simple preacher walking the roads of ancient Israel. This Messiah conquered death and changed lives. He humbled the mighty and raised up the powerless. He taught us how to live and how to die, and he promised us eternal life.
This Christmas, as we gaze on the babe in the manger in the crèche, we are not just looking at a cute and innocent baby. We are looking at our Savior and Teacher, Redeemer and King. If we can see this, then we should also see that he is looking back at us, and asking us when we will begin following him and living as he taught us.
The world thirsts for a Mandela, a Gandhi, a Pope Francis, a Mother Teresa to remind us what true leaders look like. But the Savior born in Bethlehem wants us. He wants us to follow him in discipleship, with humility and sacrifice, and with love and joy. He wants us to be his.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor