During Advent, Waiting for Change

Rev. John L. McCullough | December 24, 2013

As originally published by Huffington Post, 12/23/2013, 2:08 p.m.

As the church has celebrated during this Advent season, we often hear the expression that “Advent is a season of waiting.” But as I hear this refrain repeated, I wonder if maybe these words have lost their meaning in the commercial rush of Christmas and even in the traditional nativity depictions of the journey to Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

Upon reflecting this season, I have asked myself, what does it mean to wait in December 2013? On the surface, waiting can seem like a passive experience in standing by for external forces to act. And in our world, far too many people are stuck waiting for relief from circumstances that seem beyond their control.

Far too many families are waiting for an end to the fear of deportation and detention. Far too many mothers and fathers are waiting to be reunited with their U.S. citizen children. Far too many vulnerable people are waiting in refugee camps and volatile situations to learn of their fate as they flee persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group. Far too many refugees across the world are waiting to return home -= and in particular the more than 6.5 million Syrians who are scattered across camps, towns and cities not too far from present-day Bethlehem.

Yet, this isn’t the whole story. It’s incorrect to think that those who are impacted aren’t taking control of the circumstances they seek to change. In our fight for immigration reform, immigrants themselves are standing up — often at great personal risk — to organize, tell their stories, meet with members of Congress, and demand action on behalf of their families.

Cristian Avila, a young DREAMer from Arizona, fasted from all food for 22 days on the National Mall as part of the inspiring Fast for Families movement that swept across our nation this Advent season. His witness along with that of the other fasters has inspired fresh wind and action on immigration reform. And across the world, I am deeply moved by the Syrian women who have made their way to Geneva ahead of peace talks to demand that women have a seat at the negotiation table. The truth about waiting is that those most affected by our broken world aren’t sitting idly by waiting for peace to come. They are actively engaging leaders and allies, demanding change and holding those in power accountable.

As churches, faith-based agencies, and people of good will, we need to join these leaders and reclaim this season of Advent and all that it can mean. We need to redefine this waiting from being a passive observance of a Christian holiday to a new faith-inspired depth of activism that moves us forward to seeing God’s will being done here on earth. This means listening to those impacted, and following their guidance on how to be powerful and effective allies. It means speaking more forcefully, acting more boldly, and prioritizing justice at the cost of our own comfort and routine. The consequences of inaction are too great to stand silently by — change must happen for all those who wait and seek justice, family reunification, and freedom this holiday season.

The CWS network of religious communions and refugee resettlement offices are ready to stand with and work alongside immigrants and refugees in the new year to demand and enact justice and peace across our world. And in the case of immigration reform, as we see signs of hope and signs of change, we will continue to actively, persistently, and passionately wait on House leadership to act — and we won’t be waiting quietly.

Rev. John McCullough is President and CEO of CWS