Oh church, what a week! What a week! While we are not in the United States, we are connected to the United States, some of us by family, others work, but all of us are connected by geography. The United States is our relations, and this week saw many emotions, fears, frustrations, exhaustions, and challenges come out from a process that we often take for granted. Now I will leave the commentary on the electoral process to the pundits and historians in relation to election 2020, but one thing that kept creeping up this week, heck that's kept creeping up in these last 7 months of covid life has been the waiting. 2020 has really felt like one long, at times non consensual road trip, where we are locked in the back seat of the car without a rest stop, not really sure how this will all turn out. The chants of “are we there yet,” ring loudly all around us as we all seek and desire an exit to this longest, hardest, and loneliest of years in recent memory. Are we there yet church, is also a refrain for us to hold tight on this road of Christian discipleship we walk because it points to what we are about. We are about waiting, a waiting which forms us this morning in Matthew.
The wise and foolish virgins is a wonderfully awkward passage of scripture, one of those times I wish the canonical editors of scripture listened to God's providence differently and just left it out. I’d love to pass over this passage because of how silly it feels in that all we have to do is share the oil and this problem of waiting will be solved. I'm also deeply tired of passages that get stuck in this fascination we seem to have with the value of women found in their “virginity.” However there is more at play here than what it seems on the surface. Matthew in todays parable, and the preceding “watchful” parables is setting up conversations that upend our idea of what the end times will be. There is a vein of commentary that reads this passage as a process of accumulated good works, relating the oil to the works we do here on earth to prepare us for the kingdom of heaven. Others suggest, just as I have this morning, that there are wise and foolish virgins, which denotes a tone of judgement over others preparations and keeps this story about someone else outside of us, because after all as practicing christians, we are ready for what's to come- right? But what is to come? A world in which the beatitudes are the law and constitution of our world, a world that still sits in wait. A waiting we lean more deeply into today.
Advent liturgically may not start for another 3 weeks, but formationally and scripturally it starts today. Indeed, in the ancient church, Advent was celebrated over seven weeks up until the 13th century when it was shortened to four weeks. The Reign of Christ the King, which is the last sunday before Advent, was only added to our liturgical calendar in the 1960’s during the second vatican council. What has endured through all these changes is the theme of waiting which the church is called to enter into from early November as we being our walk towards Christmas. And this year is no different, as we seek to figure out what life means during covid, during elections, during a time when our normal parties cannot happen, we sit and wait for the bridegroom, who is Christ, with oil lamps. But what do oil and lamps have to do with waiting? It is the fuel that illuminates the road we are on this morning towards the manger.
The beatitudes remind us that the kingdom of heaven will be inherited by those the world forgets, the poor in spirit, by the most unlikely of folks- note, it's not the billionaires. The beatitudes also tell us to “let our light shine before others, that they may know the good works of our father in heaven.” What unites the beatitudes to our world is the Cross, because in order for us to live these statements of faith, there is a certain amount of personal death that needs to happen within us as we place more and more dependance on God to see and know how we are to live with purpose what it is we hear in the beatitudes. It is, then, this cross moment within us that unleashes the light from within us when we move past our fear into new relationships with our homeless friends, seeing them as we see ourselves. We unleash the light of God's transformative cross within us when we stand with the meek and peacemakers, when we bind the sick and love the isolated. We unleash the light of God's transformative cross when we move past our isolation and self dependence and put trust in God first in our world, especially when trust means we don't know where we are going.
Many have faulted the church for being slower than molasses going uphill on a cold day in relation to movements in policy and doctrine which is related to our active participation in a beatitude infused world. And at times, that criticism is very valid. For far too long, women have been treated as a second class citizen in the church. We have dragged our feet on the full inclusion of all Gods diverse humanity in all aspects of ministry, and at times we continue to revert to safety over risk when it comes to relationships with our money and the needs of others. However, there is space within our polity of waiting, waiting for Christ’s second Advent, that suggest the space to wrestle with the Spirit is a gift to be honoured rather than a problem to be legislated out. Sitting and waiting for Christ's coming again is not about spinning our wheels and naval gazing, although it can feel like that, its about filling our lamps ready to illumen the road we are on together. A road we are asked to walk again today.
In the crazy season before us outside as the world ramps up for whatever Christmas will be this year, I believe we have the opportunity to embrace the waiting with the purity of the virgins once more. I believe however that these references to virginity are not in fact talking about the physical nature of virginity, but the spiritual purity of humanity towards God. This is about declaring our desire to wait for the depths of relationship within us that only God can give us, about forming a sense of ourselves that is wholly waiting upon God and Gods providence through prayer for our lives. A life that will be different for each of us which is why the oil in another's lamp won't work in ours. We’ve all tried to give people advice and gotten annoyed when they don't follow it, but what we forget is what works for us- our oil- wont work for others because they don't have our experiences- our lamps. God places within each of us lamps, full of God's oil asking us to share that light with the world through our lives. We must,however, tend these spiritual lamps in this season of waiting so we are prepared for the road ahead.
Starting today, I invite you to join me for a seven week formation of waiting with the Kings as we walk towards the manger. This weekly email will give scripture, questions, and reflections to chew on in our week, along with a silent morning retreat half way through as we tend to our lamps in the waiting of this season for our bridegroom. Email me to get onto the mail list, all are welcome!
Come and wait with me Church, wait with me as we prepare our lamps for Gods oil of gladness and power to illuminate through us the wisdom of the beatitudes to embrace all of humanity in the freedom of Gods love. Patience is hard, Love is hard, waiting feels selfish given the needs around us, but in our waiting, we are working and we are listening. We are listening for the first breaths of God's new creation made flesh in the baby Jesus at the manger seven weeks from now, a first. But first we wait, for tomorrow He comes!