Oil for our lamps

Advent: awaiting the first coming and the second

Dec 4, 2017 by

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In Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25, the women get drowsy and fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom, who is running late. It’s not an Advent parable, but it is a warning for those who wait, which is what Advent is all about.

As we revisit ancient Israel’s wait for the Messiah during Advent, we can anticipate not only our celebration of Jesus’ first coming but also remember that today we are waiting for his second. Will we stay awake?

While waiting for the return of our King and the fulfillment of his kingdom, we are at risk of becoming drowsy in spirit. Discouraged might be a better word for it. Reports of wickedness, conflict and disaster near and far seem to have no end, wearing down our morale and making us ask, “Lord, how long?”

Christians around the world endure hardship while waiting. Chinese Christians were told last month to replace Christian imagery in their homes with pictures of President Xi Jinping in order to receive social services. In Eritrea, it is estimated thousands of Protestants, including entire families, are jailed for their faith.

In the U.S., we might feel discouraged about damage to the reputation of Christianity due to evangelicals’ support for Donald Trump. Many Americans are watching the witness of evangelicals regarding social concerns such as racism, immigration and sexual abuse, and not liking what they see.

All of this can make us feel weary, drowsy, discouraged. We may ask: Is the Lord ever going to return? Perhaps the most practical question is: How shall we be like the faithful wedding attendants of Jesus’ parable?

The story continues with the bridegroom arriving at midnight, but only the women who brought extra oil for their lamps could enter the wedding feast. The others were left out. Jesus concludes with this exhortation: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).

What are we doing to stock up on oil as we await Jesus’ return? Are we obeying the teaching he gave to us (Luke 6:46)? Are we making disciples and baptizing them (Matt. 28:18-20)? Are we bearing good fruit (Matt. 7:15-20, Gal. 5:22-23)?

Jesus gives more details about his return — “when the Son of Man comes in his glory” — in Matt. 25:31-46. The parable of the sheep and the goats gives a sober warning that only those who serve the least of Jesus’ family members will inherit the kingdom we are waiting for.

The Advent season is a good time to reassess how seriously we’re taking this admonition. Where are we doing well? Where do we need to repent? With hindsight, we relive the wait for the Incarnation, knowing Advent gives way to Christmastide. Let us take that assurance and apply it to the future return of Christ.


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