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Toshiki Toma

“It is worth waiting for this!”

Flutt 12. desember 2016 · í enskri messu í Breiðholtskirkju

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.
1.
I went back to Japan for 12 days just before Advent. There is no regular direct flight between Iceland and Japan, so one needs to stop over some place in Europe if one wants to fly to Japan from here. I usually go through Copenhagen. From Copenhagen, it takes about ten and a half hours to get to the Narita-Tokyo airport. It’s a long flight.

This time, after the boarding was completed, they found some trouble in the cargo area and had to fix it before taking off. And it took two and a half hours. Meanwhile, I watched a two-hour movie. But by the time I had finished the movie, we had still not even departed yet. It almost broke my heart to think about the whole 10-and-a-half-hour flight ahead.

My hometown in Japan now is Sapporo, and I have to take one more flight from Tokyo to Sapporo. I left my house in Reykjavík at 5:20 on Monday morning, and arrived at my hotel in Sapporo at 10 o’clock on Tuesday night. So it took almost two days.

I always feel in the trip between Iceland and Japan as if I am always waiting for something, such as waiting for the departure time, waiting for the arrival at my destination or waiting for another flight.

In our daily lives, we are inevitably forced to endure many sorts of “waiting times”: in the airport, at the hospital, at the social services office, at the bus stop, and so on. And we don’t like those waiting times, generally. We often feel that waiting time is just a waste of time: it’s irritating, or it’s restricting our freedom.

As we know well, many of the asylum seekers here in Iceland face another kind of waiting time when it comes to their asylum applications. Many say the same thing: “it is deadly difficult to have to just wait, doing nothing”.

In their cases, another heavy burden adds here, that they never know what kind of destiny awaits them after this waiting period. It is understandable that they feel uncomfortable, uneasy and frustrated.

2.
So from the point of view in our everyday lives, “waiting time” seems to have a rather negative meaning. But here in the church, waiting time has traditionally been considered as something positive, or meaningful. We are now in the period of the church calendar called “Advent”.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “Adventus”, meaning “arrival”. It is the period of waiting for the arrival of Christ. In Japanese, Advent is called “Taikou-setsu”, literally “the period of waiting for the arrival”. So the waiting time is formally set in the church calendar.

But actually, waiting for the arrival of Christ has longer history than in the Christian church. Around the 6th century BC, many Jewish people were taken to the kingdom of Babylonia in captivity. The Jews lost their home country and their temple in Jerusalem, the center of their religious lives.

In the city of Babylon, they were forced to establish their own identity as Jews, placing focus on the Laws of Moses, not on the rituals in the temple any longer.

And through those years, prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah gave the Jews a message from God: that God would forgive them and send the Messiah to give them salvation, rescue by God. And therefore the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah’s arrival.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist asks Jesus from prison: “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Mt. 11: 3) John the Baptist has been waiting for the Messiah, too. He knows that the Messiah would come after him. So he dares to ask this question of Jesus.

And Jesus sends his answer to John: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Mt. 11: 4-6)

Jesus is the Messiah that God has promised, but not all of the Jews can accept him as Christ. And we know how the story continued. And all of these events took place about 2000 years ago.

3.
Christ was born to this earth about 2000 years ago. This is a one-time event in our history. He walked on this earth, taught his disciples and people, healed many sick people, proclaimed the Gospel and died on the cross for us. All of these events are a part of our history, and will never repeat in the same way again.

But in the church calendar, in our religious practice, we regularly re-experience the birth of Christ, the communion with him and his precious death on the cross. Things repeat in our faith.

And now if we look at each of our own lives in connection with “the waiting time” as our religious belief, we can say two things with confidence.

The first is that each of us lives our own life, waiting for our own death. This is not a black joke at all. We are allowed to live only a limited time on the earth, and because of the limit, because of death, each day of our lives shines as grace from God.

Another thing we can say regarding “the waiting” in our lives is that we are all waiting for the second coming of Jesus at the end of this world. Jesus comes again and the Kingdom of God replaces this world completely. And then our own lives can be completed perfectly.

And this “second coming of Jesus” is beyond the time of my death or your death. It might be after 1000 years. We can say only that it will surely come someday. We are supposed to wait for that day.

From the Christian point of view, the waiting time or the waiting period is not something useless, something in vain, but it has certain meaning. God our Father prepared the time and period for us “to wait”.

God didn’t send the Messiah right away, but gave the Jews good time to wait. God has not sent Jesus again from his Kingdom to us, but is giving us good time to wait. Why do we need to wait? Because there is some important meaning in the action of waiting.

4.
French philosopher Simone Weil was very much a Christian in her own way, and she wrote once: “The mother of waiting and longing for something is patience”.

We need patience in order to wait for something longed for. The word “patience” comes from the Latin word “patior”, meaning “to suffer”. We call the sick people in the hospital “patients” because they are suffering from illness.

From our own experience, we know that our earthly lives can be full of misery and pain. To go through this life on earth, we need to be patient. Patience is one of the most important tools in our lives.

And God knows the reality of our earthly life. And he gave us the opportunities of “waiting for a good time” or “longing for release from pain”.

In my thought, it is opposite to what Simone Weil said: waiting for something good and longed for is the mother of patience. This is like the discussion about hen and egg, which comes first.

But anyway, to be patient and to wait for something longed for are related to each other. When we can wait for something good, we can be patient. To long for something nice becomes a hope itself.

I have googled trying to find some short story that can illustrate the joy after the waiting period. I hit this phrase: “it was worth waiting for this!” And there are many episodes about it.

A female soldier came back home from 3 months’ duty, and saw her old dog was waiting for her. He almost went mad when he saw her coming. An old woman in an area damaged by a big earthquake was so happy when young volunteers arrived at her home after long days of waiting.

Many young people, reunited with their fiancés after a long separation experience a heavenly happiness; and so on. It strengthens our lives to wait and long for good news.

5.
Following Jesus never provides us a life without misery or a life without pain and sadness. Waiting for the return of Jesus won’t necessarily solve the problems that we are facing in our lives right now.

But waiting for the second coming of Jesus gives us the patience to go through the difficult days. Longing for our reunion with Jesus creates new hope in our earthly lives. All of those things are parts of our faith in Christ.

Jesus had told his disciples just before he was arrested and taken away: “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (Jn. 16:22)

We believe in this word of Jesus. We have faith in this Jesus. And so, we can wait with patience, and the waiting time will never end in vain.
Wait for Christ, wait for Christmas, especially if you are having a difficult time. Jesus comes for you.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

Text:

Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

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