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Advent: a time to be selfish, but not self-centered

"The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out, 'Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.' 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived." (Matthew 25:5-10a, NIV)

Once an Icelandic friend was lamenting the fact that her church never speaks, teaches or preaches about the second coming of Christ. "We have Jesus as a baby at Christmas,” she said, “And we talk about His teaching, His crucifixion, and maybe His resurrection, but we never talk about when He will return." We both agreed that this was odd, since the very confession of the church includes that from heaven Christ will "come to judge the living and the dead." And what better time to think of Christ’s return than during Advent season?

Just before Jesus tells the above story, He has been stressing the surprise of His Second Advent, the unexpected nature of it, and the need for His disciples to be prepared (24:44). This parable emphasizes the need for readiness to celebrate the coming of the Heavenly Bridegroom. The consummation of the marriage of Christ with His Bride, the church. A glorious feast. And some who are ready, will be ushered in. Others who are not ready, will be locked out.

I notice that the virgins' readiness for the coming of the Bridegroom hinges on having enough oil for their lamps. Five of them did not reckon with a long wait and so ran out of oil. Five of them thought of contingencies. And it wasn’t a matter of whether they were awake or not that determined whether they were admitted to the banquet. The wait was longer than expected and the expectant celebrants became drowsy and nodded off, but they were all awakened at the same time by the shout.

Advent is a season of waiting and watching. In the midst of all of our pre-Christmas emphasis on buying gifts and thinking of the desires of others, could it be that at this time it might be better to be a bit selfish? Selfish, but not self-centered. It was interesting to me that in the story the wise virgins refused to share their oil with the foolish. "No," they said, “there might not be enough for both us and you." In this story the oil is not something that can be—nor should be—shared. Each one was responsible to see that the oil they came with was more than enough for what might be a long wait. The center of attention was the bridegroom and "selfishly" no one wanted to be unprepared.

We await a Savior from heaven who will come to judge the living and the dead. Who will come to establish a kingdom of peace, justice and goodness. As we wait, we are to work for the things that make for peace (see Isaiah 58:6-9). "Our oil"—the Holy Spirit of God—is the ingredient for the lamps that light the way for the Bridegroom. Let us all make sure that our reserves are more than enough!

Warmly in Christ, Greg Aikins

For Reflection:

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt. 25:13, NIV)

  1. What might the similarities be between anticipating Christmas and eagerly awaiting Christ’s second coming?

  2. What practices will help supply you with spiritual "oil" as you await the Lord’s return?

  3. Advent is a time of preparation. How can you spend it “selfishly” in the best sense of the word so your spiritual resources are not depleted, but full?

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