United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

"While We Wait"
by Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Sunday, November 29, 2020 



        While we are waiting, come; (2x),

Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel, while we are waiting, come.


        That is the prayer of Advent—Come, Lord Jesus.  Come again into this tattered world.  Come to be with us as you did of old.  Come to change us.  Come to remake us.  Advent, the preparation leading to Christmas.

        And Come, Lord Jesus.  Come in power.  Come on the clouds.  Come with fire.  Come to change us.  Come to remake us.  Advent, the preparation for the end of all we know.

        These twin desires, these twin meanings of Advent, reaching into the past and stretching into the future, merge together in the ancient call “Maranatha”—Come, Lord Jesus.  Quickly come.  While we are waiting, Come.

        Maybe the whole idea of Advent, of waiting, hits close to the bone this year.  Aren’t we all waiting for this year to finally be over?  Aren’t we waiting for election and transition and inauguration to be over?  Aren’t we waiting for this horrid pandemic to be over?  WAITING seems to be a bright, flashing neon sign that we can’t avoid.

        While we are waiting, Come.  This hymn really touches me, because in the music, in the repetition, there is a feeling of longing.  You can almost hear the subtext.  We have been waiting for so long.  We are so tired of waiting.  You promised.  Deliver us from this unknowing.  Deliver us from this world of woe.  Deliver us (and our world).




        Seasons of the Spirit had an interesting suggestion for Advent this year.  They invited everyone to create an Advent Symbol Bank—by writing down some of the symbols or images contained in our readings—on one side of a card, and then writing things that those symbols evoke in you on the back--thus creating a focused meditation, and maybe a deeper understanding of the season.

        So that’s what I’m going to do today—to muse on one of the images that jumped out at me from our readings.  The image of fire—specifically, from Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil”             

        Fire.  I’ve always loved fireplaces, and firepits, and campfires.  I love the way the flames move this way and that, never in a predictable pattern.  I love the warmth that comes from sitting close to the source of heat.  I love the smell of wood burning.  It invokes feelings of being cozy, of being sheltered.

        Fire.  It is so magical how one little spark slowly spreads, and if there is the correct amount of kindling, it then blooms and soon it isn’t a little spark anymore, but a roaring, powerful thing.  And this is where some discomfort sneaks into my thoughts.  Fire kindling brushwood is what happened in the western part of our country for the past few years—with tragic results.  Once the kindling has been lit, the fire takes on a life of its own.  It creates its own weather system.  It decimates everything in its path—any vegetation, dry or otherwise; any structure; any animal not able to flee.  When Isaiah calls on God to “tear open the heavens and come down…like a fire kindling brushwood,” I picture violence and retribution and destruction.



        That kind of fire wipes out whole landscapes, annihilating anything in its path.  It forces there to be a full stop, a restart, a re-creation.  It means that there will be years of barrenness before new growth takes hold, before it can start on the journey not to what was but to what will be.

        Fire—as comfort and warmth.  Fire—as out of control force.  Fire—as useful tool--to boil water, to cook food, to bake pottery, to forge metals.   


        The season of Advent is like fire.  On the one hand, the sentimental, comforting image of God as a baby, the warmth that the image of Christmas may have in our hearts and minds—and on the other hand, that warrior Jesus of the apocalypse, throwing lightning bolts, spreading fear into everyone.  Mark says of this coming “the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

        No wonder the ancient church designated Advent as a time of preparation, a somber time (signified by purple).  This Advent business was nothing to play around with—even controlled fires need grates, and watching, and fire extinguishers (in case they get out of control).  And there is nothing to stop the Advent that is coming, though we know neither the day nor the hour.

        In fact, it is rather amazing that we say, “Maranatha;” that we sing “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus;” that we invite God to quickly make God’s self known once again in our world, in our very lives.  Because Advent is fire—God is not something we can control.  It may start out as a little spark, but once it gets going…watch out.  Or as Mark commands: “Keep Awake.” 


With power and glory, come; (2x)

Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel, while we are waiting, come.


Power and glory are God’s arena.  And what are we doing in the meantime?  Watching and waiting and hoping are the bywords for this week.  Waiting conjures up a passivity in my mind.  But isn’t there an active waiting?  (Isn’t that what we have spent the last three weeks talking about in our Matthew 25 series?).  Life doesn’t stop while we are waiting—nor should it.  God will do what God will do.  We can’t force God’s hand, nor can we pretend to know when or where Advent will occur.  But that doesn’t mean that we sit back, that we don’t have our extra oil at the ready, that we don’t use our talents as best we can, that we don’t look for Christ in the least of these. 

I was very taken by a sentence in Rev. Dr. William Barber’s address at the Poor People’s Campaign Memorial Service for Covid victims this week.  He said, “God, give us the foolishness to believe that we can make a difference.”  Give us the foolishness to believe that we can make a difference.  Because if we were to think rationally—what really can WE do to change our world?  If we were to think scientifically—what percentage chance do we have of altering anything?  It is foolishness.  But it is also hope.

Hope that “it only takes a spark” to fire up a movement.  Hope that with God the impossible becomes possible.  Hope that we need to keep on keeping on.  Hope that God goes before us, God stands behind us, God flanks us on our right and our left, God holds us in the palm of God’s hand.


What I’ve learned about hope is that it needs to be fed.  You can have a surge of hope, but it doesn’t always last.  Like our fire, it needs to be tended, lovingly.  Sometimes it needs to be prodded.  Sometimes it needs to be fanned.  Sometimes it needs to be stoked.  And that is one of the reasons being in a community is important.  Because when my hope quotient is low, you remind me of what the truth really is.  And when you need it, I return the favor.

Close watching, active waiting, fiery hope.  Along with the foolishness to believe, we have the “we can make a difference” part.  And this is where Advent preparation comes in.  You don’t “make a difference” if you are sitting on your couch, or moaning on Instagram (or Facebook, or Twitter or…), or hiding under the covers.  And don’t say to me that you’ll start after we finish this semi-quarantine process.  At least every week I read about people who are finding incredible ways to “make a difference”—like the couple that cancelled their wedding but since they couldn’t get out of their contract for the reception—they took the food to feed the hungry; or Fion Phua (the “Robin Hood” of Singapore) who created “Keeping Hope Alive” helping the less fortunate (she says, “we support social distancing, not social isolation”); or the Penny family (Chris Penny and his daughters, Julia and Sophia) who started a true “rock garden” complete with painted rocks on the Parr Park Trail, in Grapevine TX—and 4000 people have sent them their art rocks to be included; or two Dads, Scott McKenzie and Jeremy Uhrich, who started having a bake-off in Huntingdon, PA, mostly out of boredom.  They donated the cookies to essential workers—and then after creating a Facebook page “Cookies for Caregivers” had 100 others join their cause.  In the last eight months they have made more than 15,500 little bites of love, or our near and dear Paycheck Project in Harlem.  I could go on and on.  It is just a glimpse of “make a difference.” 


How are you going to actively wait this year?  How are you going to blow on the spark of hope in our world?


        Come, Savior, quickly come; (2x),

Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel, while we are waiting, come.



        Fire is a complicated process.  It needs fuel, it needs kindling, it needs a spark, and it needs air.  This Advent, let’s marvel at the intricate dance of being in relationship with our God.  For we believe God has made entrance into our world, born in a stable and laid in a manger—and is with us even now  as Spirit, all around us, every time we breathe, nudging us, calling us.  Advent sometimes is small and unnoticed (except by holy angels, and outcast shepherds, and foreign magi)—and yet Advent can eventually shake the whole world. 

        This week of Advent, when we call out to the holy hope of change and movement toward the world as it should be, we are reminded that Advent is not just about God, it is about us as well.  We have to figure out how we are going to be part of the fire—part of the heat that warms hearts, part of the light shed on the darkness of loneliness and isolation, part of the comfort, part of the upheaval. 


Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel, while we are waiting come.


May God grant us the foolishness to believe that we can make a difference, and the courage and strength to take a step, any step, in that direction.


May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.