Are you ready? – Matthew in Advent day 17

In just one week it will be Christmas, are you ready? Have you bought and wrapped the presents, bought all the non perishable food so the last week is as smooth as possible? Or are you a stereotypical man?

Men, rumour has it, though I have not met one who admits to it, start their Christmas shopping after lunch on Christmas eve. Whatever is left in the shops is what you get. Please do not be this kind of man this Christmas.

The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.

The story of the sixth virgin

‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 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.”

10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 ‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”

12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25: 1-13 NIV UK

The parables of Jesus needed no explanation, they would have been fully understood by those they were aimed at, but maybe not by people generally. Only a few are explained in scripture so maybe we should just tell the stories Jesus told and let the Holy Spirit do her work.

But something that speaks to one culture may not speak into another. What marriage means is constantly evolving. In Britain the marriage act of 1753 was more about who can inherit an estate than about two people committing to each other in a loving relationship. That and subsequent marriage acts have little to do with marriage in the Bible.

In Jesus day a couple were betrothed but lived apart until the wedding when the bridegroom would leave the party, which had already begun without the bride, to go to the bride’s house and bring her back to his house to continue the party. The party would then go on for a week. Jesus tells a story where the bridegroom is late coming back, very late indeed, so late that everyone is asleep. Another thing is that referring to someone as a virgin in this passage just means a young woman, not that she is virgo intacta.

In the parables that Jesus did give the meaning to everything is symbolic. In the parable of the sower, for example:

  • The is the seed sown along the path is anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it.
  • The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word but gives up when persecution comes
  • The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
  • The seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. (Matthew 13:1-23)

The thing I am going to look at in this parable is oil, and my preposition is that it is a symbol of God’s anointing, of God’s Holy Spirit. Oil was used in the anointing of kings and of priests all through the Old Testament. Oil, along with water, wine and bread, is also a major Christian symbol, used for anointing but also healing. It signifies the blessing of God.

The bridegroom has gone on a journey in order to return. He is late. When he returns late 5 of the 10 young women in attendance have run out of oil. The oil, a symbol of the blessing of God has departed, God’s anointing is no longer with them. What they have done is not mentioned, but this is a warning to the Jews that God is about to judge them. God’s glory will depart from a disobedient people. They are about to be cast out.

That is the first of the meanings. But Jesus told his disciples clearly that he was going to go away at his ascension and return. Will he find us ready when he returns? Jesus’ own summing up if the story is, ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’

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