I can hardly wait for Christmas! We’ve been getting ready for some time around the Owen house. Retail prepares for the Christmas season all year long. Children start angling toward it not long after Halloween! Chances are that you’ve been getting ready, trying to figure out how to make the best of it or just survive it for quite a few weeks now.
We all know about “keeping watch” for what is to come. From nursery onward we are constantly working to prepare our kids for the next stage, the next test, the next opportunity. “Get ready for what’s coming” is the watch-phrase of ob-gyn’s, financial planners, designers, and business gurus alike. Even churches get caught up in preparation for the next major holiday program or ministry need.
Jesus had His own ideas about such. “Keep watch,” he said, “because you do not know the day or the hour” when I will return. This theme of being ready for the final Advent or coming of Christ doesn’t seem to get much play these days. That’s unfortunate, I think, because the One born in Bethlehem transmitted it on every bandwidth He could. The gospels are full of such reminders.
One of my favorites is a wedding story. While in Israel these oil lamps reminded me again of what I am so prone to forget. Jesus says ten maidens light their lamps and spend the night waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive. But only five of them make it to the altar. Jesus is telling us that there are two types of people—those who like the idea of being married but who can’t bear the waiting; and those who truly prepare for the Bridegroom, trusting Him through the night.
I’m not so sure about the first 5—maybe they gave up hope. Perhaps they became fascinated with other people or things. Whatever the case, it’s clear they no longer believed that the Bridegroom would come or was worth the wait.
It was not that way for the other five. For though they were asleep too when the Bridegroom came, these wise ones had gone to bed in a very different way. Jesus said that they had taken the time to stock up extra “oil in jars along with their lamps,” so that when it came time to rise they had plenty of light to see their way to the Bridegroom.
Ever wonder just what this “oil” represents? Better still, how do I make sure I have plenty?
Helmut Thielecke suggests that this oil signifies a life of prayerful relationship with Christ. That seems to make sense. Things that burn are frequently viewed in the Bible as symbols for a life of prayer. There is the oil that burned for eight days; and the incense that was burned to represent the prayers of the saints; and Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. There are candles and burnt offerings—you get the idea.
It is only those who are truly “engaged” with the Bridegroom—not superficially, or once long ago, or because their parents tried to arrange it—but those in a continuing journey of relationship that will be married to Christ when He returns at last.
Jesus makes this pretty clear—“The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’”
Could it be that being ready is all about relationship? After all, how can we be married when we haven’t really been engaged? It is only those who are sharing with Christ the struggle and sorrow, the temptations and trials, the joy and gladness of each day that He comes to know. It is those who are praying for neighbors, giving to the needy, and reading the Scriptures—who will have the light necessary through the darkness.
If we are truly engaged, we will be able to endure the long night of waiting. Oiled by prayer, even our sleep will be different. We will be less inclined to toss and turn and more able to enjoy the sweet rest of faith and hope.