I can't tell you when it first occurred to me, but somewhere in the early years of adulthood I realized that I was simply incapable of treating Advent as a season of Waiting. To be clear, my inability to wait is not due to an overage of Christmas Spirit leading me to deck halls and binge on maple syrup like Buddy the Elf. It's not building excitement or anticipating cherished time with family.
There's just too much to do if we are to announce Christ’s coming presence in the world.
Once upon a time, Advent was a season of fasting, much like Lent. It was much less about preparing room for baby Jesus in our hearts and much more about preparing the way for Christ in His eternal nature--the Christ that started out as that baby in the manger, as well as the Christ that lives and reigns today, and who will come again.
The advice was (and should be) not to wait, but to prepare and keep watch.
One family from my time as an English as a Second Language teacher to refugees in Pittsburgh beautifully illustrates what I mean. I had the privilege to teach English and GED classes to five Bhutanese-Nepali siblings (ages 19-27) in my late night class. Their preparation and focus in class astounded me. At a time in the evening when I was losing the ability to think clearly, my students would file in, ready to learn what I had prepared, after each of them worked a twelve-hour shift in a local meat packing plant.
They always had their homework finished. They stayed engaged and asked great questions late into the evening. They never so much as breathed that they were exhausted, though you could see it in their eyes.
One evening, my students looked more drained than usual as they filed into our makeshift computer lab to learn how to search for information on the internet. Something was up, so I asked them if anything was wrong. One of the brothers revealed that a close friend and classmate from their refugee camp days was gunned down for his wallet outside his apartment in Jacksonville, FL, where resettlement agencies placed his family.
As a teacher, preparing to instruct others is foremost an act of listening and watching to develop the best way to transfer information. My class preparations were suddenly inadequate. A lesson on how to use Google spiraled into a lesson on American government and civics.
As I listened to my students--my friends and role models--I learned just how vulnerable refugees feel in the United States. Their questions weren't about criminal procedure or how swiftly justice would come. They wondered if law enforcement would even bother with finding their friend's murderer.
Maybe that's when I learned that waiting is a luxury, to be savored by those in positions of privilege and comfort. Most of our neighbors in the global sense cannot afford to wait. There is simply too much to do if they are to survive.
A decade later, and with the help of social media, I know that my students’ academic preparation paid off handsomely. They have families and children of their own, with good jobs to support themselves and share with their neighbors. The sister I stayed in touch with became a nurse. My students’ preparations required vision, foresight, and faith to endure the physical, mental, and emotional labor required to improve their economic lives.
The least we who can afford to wait should do is prepare the way.
Kelley Burd-Huss is a Houston attorney who thrives on helping change-makers navigate the murky waters between nonprofit and for profit entrepreneurship. She serves on FAM Houston’s Board of Directors, and lives in Houston’s historic Third Ward with her husband, two small humans, and three large dogs.