Morning Musing: Matthew 25:1-4

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Jesus loved to tell stories. He did it all throughout His ministry. He told stories prompted by the situations He was in. He told stories that connected with people because they could easily locate themselves in the stories. One of the His stories was about a bridal party getting ready for the arrival of the groom. It is a story that has everything to do with Advent. Let’s talk about why.

Because I didn’t grow up giving much attention to Advent, for a long time, I really didn’t know what the word meant. I mean that literally: I didn’t know what the definition of the word was. When I first started to give it some attention, for the longest time I thought it meant “waiting.” After all, the season is filled with our waiting for Jesus’ arrival. It took looking it up several times and probably preaching a sermon or two that was wrong on at least that score before I got it right.

Advent, of course, means, “arrival,” because we are preparing for the arrival of Jesus. And yet, it is also true that Advent is a season of waiting because His arrival hasn’t yet come. Well, His first arrival has. That’s why we celebrate Christmas. But the season of Advent is really about more than just Christmas. We celebrate His first arrival, but we also anticipate His second coming. We have been anticipating it for nearly 2,000 years. Thus, Advent is a season of waiting.

The parable of the ten virgins is a parable about waiting. As a bit of an interpretive and cultural note, we could also call this the parable of the ten young women. They used the word “virgin” then because it was simply assumed that a young, unmarried woman was a virgin. We don’t make that assumption anymore. In fact, our culture has gotten so sexually insane that chastity is the rarity, not the other way around. In any event, this is a parable about waiting.

Jesus said there was once this bridal party. It was a big bridal party – ten attendants on each side. And the young women who were attending the bride were waiting on the arrival of the groom. They knew he was going to come eventually – it was his wedding after all – but they didn’t know when. Five of the young women came prepared. Not knowing how long the groom might take, they not only brought their lamps, they brought extra oil in case he took longer than they expected. Five of the young women, though, weren’t planning on his taking very long. They brought their own lamps, of course, but they didn’t bring anything extra. They figured his coming would be on time; their time.

As Jesus continued in the story, though, He revealed that for some unknown reason, the groom’s arrival was delayed. It was delayed, in fact, far longer than anyone expected. He was so late, that the whole party fell asleep waiting for him to get there. While they slept, their lamps continued to burn. Suddenly, though, someone shouted that He was coming. Roused from their slumber, everyone got ready to greet him. They all got up and began trimming their lamps so they could go and meet the groom. This meant they trimmed off the extra wick that had burnt up and added some oil so the lamp would continue to burn.

Except, five of the young women hadn’t brought any extra oil. They asked the other five to share, but the wiser quintet refused on the grounds that they only brought enough for themselves. If they shared, everyone would run out and they would all be in the dark. The foolish quintet had to run back home to get some more oil. While they were gone, though, the groom arrived and everyone who was there accompanied him to the bridal party. The five young women who had to run home for more oil finally made it back and fixed their lamps, but they discovered they had missed out on the party. The doors were closed and no one else was being admitted.

The moral of the story, of course, is that if we aren’t ready for Jesus when He comes, we run the risk of missing out on the great heavenly feast waiting for those who are His upon His arrival. Perhaps you’ve heard or read this story before. But what does it have to do with Advent? Everything. These young women were all waiting for the arrival of the groom who is Jesus. They were in a season of Advent. They were in a season of Advent, but they didn’t handle the waiting well. They weren’t prepared for what it would entail or how long it would stretch on. As a result, when the moment for the arrival finally came, they weren’t prepared.

We too are living in a season of Advent. Yes, we are waiting for Christmas in a week and a half’s time, but like I said before, we are also waiting for Christ’s return. We are waiting for the groom to arrive and for the marriage feast of the Lamb to begin. There are two different ways to wait for something. The first way is very passive. We sit there and do nothing. The school where my boys attend doesn’t have a full or regular bus service. Nearly all the students are dropped off in the mornings and picked up in the afternoons. As a result, starting sometime after lunch, parents and grandparents begin arriving at the school to pick up their students. Some of them arrive as much as two or three hours before school lets out. And what do they do for all this time? Most of them just sit there. They read a book. They nap. They play on their phones. They are simply passively waiting until dismissal starts.

This weekend and into next week, we will be waiting for my parents to arrive to spend a few days with us for Christmas. I suspect you may find yourself in a similar boat. Even if you are the one traveling, though, you are still in a period of waiting for the trip to begin. Far from being passive in our waiting, though, we will spend time cleaning the house and buying groceries and wrapping presents and doing a hundred other things that everyone does when company is coming. Our waiting will be active. We will be focused on not simply getting ready, but being ready. All this and we know when the arrival is happening.

Our waiting for Jesus needs to be of this second sort. If we become passive in our waiting and slack in our preparations, it may be that He arrives at a time when we aren’t expecting, and we miss out on the party. And, yes, the implications of that are just as unnerving as I suspect Jesus meant for them to be. So then, how are you preparing? What are you doing to make sure you are ready for Jesus to return whenever that happens to be? There are going to be days when the waiting feels interminable. You may even doze off. But if you are well prepared, you’ll be covered when the time comes. Use this Advent season as a reminder that we are living our whole lives in a season of Advent. Make ready for His coming.

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