Do you ever learn something for the first time that you have known your entire life?
I’ve always known, intellectually, that the word advent means the arrival of something or someone notable, and that the advent season is all about waiting for Christmas.
As a child, I celebrated advent with a decorative wall hanging of a house. A small plush teddy bear was pinned to the wall hanging, and each day the bear looked in a different room of the house for Christmas. The closer the bear moved to the living room where his family awaited, decorating the Christmas tree, the closer we were to spending Christmas with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
As an adult, I have come to cherish a different tradition my family has, one I have known as long as the advent calendar but have grown to appreciate more and more with age.
Before opening gifts, we sit down as a family, and my father reads the traditional Christmas story from Luke. He then reads what he calls his favorite Christmas story from Isaiah 53, which prophesies the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without Isaiah 53, Luke 2 doesn’t have much meaning. For centuries, the people of God waited for a Savior, and that special birth of a newborn baby was just one part in a series of promises God has kept.
Christmas looks very different now than it did when I was a child. All of my grandparents have passed, the bear advent calendar is lost somewhere in my mother’s house, and I now play the role of the aunt, not the niece.
Thankfully, my father is still there to read both Christmas stories, but this year, I will not be there to hear it. With the threat of COVID-19 hitting closer and closer to home each day, I chose not to travel in an effort to keep my loved ones safe.
This Christmas, I undersand the advent season in a way I have never understood it before.
Those couple of months at the beginning of the year when the coronavirus was just a headline in the international news and life carried on as normal seem so very long ago. At the end of February, I remember standing in the airport in Lima, Peru, seeing select few travelers wearing masks, and I was reminded that the coronavirus was a threat in other parts of the world. Naively, I did not realize it was already a threat to my part of the world.
While I have remained healthy, I have watched those around the world lose countless loved ones to the virus, while others around me insisted the “hype” of the pandemic would surely end after November’s election. Friends of mine have lost parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Acquaintances have lost husbands, wives, or children.
I lost one of my nearest and dearest friends, who was like a brother to me – not to the virus, but to a car accident – but couldn’t be there to bury or mourn him because of the pandemic. My heart still longs to be with his family, who is like my family, but I can’t. So I wait.
As a teacher, I long for the day when my classroom will once again be full of students, and my biggest competition for their attention will be either their cell phones or each other.
Now, I teach behind a computer screen, competing with homes that are less than ideal study environments. I try to engage seventh graders in meaningful learning while they fight the distractions of video games, Tik Tok, younger siblings, and adults who forget that their child is technically “in school.”
Teaching during this time is what has helped me understand what it means to truly live in a season of advent, waiting for someone or something.
Every day that I teach to a virtual classroom of students with their cameras off, I long to see my students’ faces.
On the days when they are in my classroom, I long for the day I do not have to interrupt my teaching to remind students to pull their masks over their nose and keep their distance from one another.
I long to gather my students in my arms and hug them fiercely, so that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone cares for them.
I long for my classroom to be abuzz with small group discussion and hands-on learning, and I long for the moments when I can watch my students’ faces light up when they finally get it.
I long for the day when deaths from COVID are so few and far between that they become faces and stories and people and not numbers.
I long for the day when medical and scientific knowledge is not weaponized or divisive.
I long for the day when wearing masks and social distancing are matters of character, not politics.
I long for the day when we don’t have to do either one of those things.
I long for the day when Christ comes again, this time for good. I long for the day when He comes to remove all pain, all suffering, every tear from our eyes and every ache from our bodies.
Until then, I wait.