The story is told about a certain Rabbi who concluded that human suffering was beyond endurance. He knocked at the Messiah’s gate and asked him, “Why are you taking so long? Don’t you know that humankind is expecting you?” The Messiah answered, “It is not me they are waiting for. Some are waiting for good health and riches; others for serenity and knowledge; or peace in the home and happiness. No, it is not me they are waiting for.” The Rabbi lost patience at this and cried. “So be it! If you have but one face, may it remain in shadow! If you cannot help men, all men, resolve their problems, all their problems, even the most insignificant, then stay where you are, as you are. If still you have not guessed that you are bread for the hungry, a voice for the old man without heirs, sleep for those who dread the night, if you have not understood all this and more: that every wait is a wait for you, then you are telling the truth: indeed, it is not you that mankind is waiting for.”
Then the Rabbi came back to earth, gathered his disciples and forbade them to despair: “And now, the true waiting begins.”
“Are you he who is to come or shall we wait for another?” (Mt. 11:2) The Jews still wait for the Messiah. Christians proclaim that he has come and is coming again. This is what we celebrate in Advent, but while waiting for the Second Coming, something always happens that is difficult and painful. Something that you do not understand, that you do not want.
And in that moment, you’re going to think that the Messiah has not yet come, that he has abandoned you even, and forgotten all about you. The victims of Typhoon Yolanda, those who lost someone they loved, or experienced a relationship that ended badly, or a teenager getting bullied mercilessly. And for some, it seems so bad that the best way out is to end their life. “Do you see my pain? Do you care about what is happening in my life?” we pray. “And if you see me and love me and care about my life, why don’t you come, now, and make this all go away?”
A joyful expectation
“When we have the Lord to look forward to, we can already experience him in the waiting,” according to Henri Nouwen. “If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God’s coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another. Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip. Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning
between what leads us closer to God and what doesn’t, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity. Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure.”
This is what Pope Francis has to say in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.”
Called to be human
We are called to become more human as we wait in painful longing. Just as the Word became human and dwelt among us. As the three Magi in W. H. Auden’s A Christmas Oratorio declared, “To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.” Ishikawa Takuboku was a poet from Japan who died of tuberculosis when he was just 26 years old. He gave us his formula for being a poet. “First of all, a poet must be a human being,” he wrote. “Second, he must be a human being. Third, he must be a human being.” This injunction holds not only for poets but for all members of the human race. Ernst Stadler’s command to those who are cut off from the world, alienated from who they are deeply, is also relevant here: “Mensch, werde wesentlich! (Man, become substantial!).
This last line of Stadler’s poem, The Saying, has been translated by Stephen Berg thus: “STOP BEING A GHOST!
Christ, the Messiah, dwells within each of us. Consoling us with his mercy, with humility, with patience, with love. If we wait this way, we will make of our lives an ongoing Advent and we become more human while waiting. We will live waiting and watching in joyful hope for the Messiah to enter our lives and to be with us, always. That is the meaning of his name: “Emmanuel,” God with us. Only by making ourselves ready to meet Christ at every moment, can we make ourselves ready to meet him when he comes again. So we wait, repent, make the crooked paths straight. Heal the wounded. Comfort the sorrowful. Console those who weep. Empower the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten. Look beyond the veil of every day life. And look within you where the Kingdom is. Do it all joyfully, wondrously, and with love. As they say, life is not waiting for the storm to pass, it is learning to dance in the rain. And we do this because now the true waiting begins.