December 14, 2016 by

It’s the Advent season again, an ecclesiastical period celebrated by Catholics around the world, and also by many non-Catholics (even some of us Anabaptists!) as an important time of reflection and preparation for Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Christ always directs my mind to the second coming of Jesus, the anticipation of the reign of the Kingdom of God.

The faith that Jesus came once and is coming again is what keeps me going. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have much to live for if I didn’t have that. So I sometimes find myself wondering how people who don’t have faith anticipate the future. Because, as Yogi Berra supposedly said: Even the future isn’t what it used to be.

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a painting showing a shepherd looking out over a valley

Artwork by Miriam Fransham

Then my thoughts inevitably segue to the “people of the book,” the chosen of God. How does a people, who believes in the same God that I do, not also accept that Christ, whose birth I celebrate, was the Messiah? I don’t want to get into the whole Messianic discussion here. But I do want to tell a story that a dear friend told me many years ago. It could be a Christmas story, or you could consider it a kind of Jewish joke. (If my father, who was raised Jewish and only converted later in life, had still been alive, he would have got it completely.)

A rabbinical student in a highly regarded Yeshiva in Jerusalem had been stopped in his tracks by the age-old question: Was Jesus the Messiah? He visited his teacher and asked, “Teacher, was Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah?” The Rabbi looked at him and asked him to sit down on the other side of his desk.

“Listen, Shmuel,” he said. “I too await the Messiah. This is what I know. When I hear that the Messiah is coming, I will go home, I will put on my long black coat, and I will take my best shtreimel out of its box and put it on my head. Then I will go out into the street and wait for him. When he comes I will go to him and I will ask, ‘Rabbi, is this your first or your second visit to our city?’ ”

Indeed, the expectation of the Messiah is intrinsic to Judaism. Maimonides, the thirteenth century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, wrote words which are recited by Jews all around the world; it is said that this prayer was etched into the walls of a bunker in Teresienstadt: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may tarry, even so, I wait each day for his coming.”

This little story is all I need to know about the Messianic debate, and nudges awfully close to a very real, if subconscious, acknowledgement of the truth: the main thing is that we are waiting for him, with complete faith.

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