train my ear
your voice to hear
grant me sight
to see through night
To the other end
of this conversation
where wrong’s made right
the Lamb’s delight
where angels praise
before your holy blaze
where the Word
and True Light
is real sight
until that day
Remember the iconic house lighting scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)? Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, desperate for “a fun, old fashioned, family Christmas” has painstakingly decorated his house with 25,000 lights. He brings his family outside with much anticipation. It’s chilly out there. Clark’s father-in-law is…freezing. And then the unthinkable. The house doesn’t illuminate.
“The little lights,” Art, played by E.G. Marshall, says, “they aren’t twinkling.”
“I know, Art. Thanks for noticing.”
Is it even Christmas without light? Certainly not for Clark. Is there even a wedding feast without light? Certainly not for the bridegroom.
This is the third of four short advent readings from Matthew 25:1-13. The first two look forward to Christ’s second advent—the one that hasn’t happened yet. The final two look back to the first advent. Please take a moment to read the passage. It’s illuminating!
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. According to D.A. Carson in the New Bible Commentary, this is a village wedding where the bridesmaids are waiting to escort the groom and bride to the wedding feast. Five of the bridesmaids are prepared and five are not.
Like Clark outside on that chilly Chicago night, the bridesmaids should have been ready to light it up. Perhaps they’re cold, obviously, they’re sleepy but the mood is still one of anticipation, readiness. But when the groom arrives—jubilantly, buoyantly, unexpectedly—sadly, the little lights, aren’t twinkling.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Half of the lamplights cut through the night brilliantly, like Clark’s house eventually does. And as it turns out, half the light is all the bridegroom needs.
In John’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus is the creating, sustaining Word of God who is also the light and life of humanity. Jesus is Godlight that darkness cannot comprehend, appropriate, absorb or overpower. The darkness is thick and unreceptive—but still Jesus comes as heaven’s light to ignite ready lamps.
Clark needed 25,000 lights. This Christmas, we only need one.
Though the night is long and cold, though we grow weary of waiting, let’s stay ready to light our little lamps from the Light of lights, the Flame of flames, by faith. Let’s rejoice and sing and be merry in the revelation the True Light brings. May it never be said of us, at Christmas or any other time of year, that little light, she’s not twinkling.
All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.
I’m echoing the sentiments of Lemony Snicket here—what I’m writing is unfortunate and unpleasant. This is our second advent reading—my attempt to bring trend to tradition. I don’t anticipate success.
Our scripture reading is from Matthew 25:1-13, where Jesus describes his kingdom as the reunion of a groom and bridesmaids. I'll wait while you look it up.
The group obviously know each other, in one sense. After all, the 10 bridesmaids are expecting the groom and the groom is returning to them. And they all look the part. I imagine the ten beautifully arrayed in crimson, violet and sapphire gowns, dazzling with jewels, eyes rimmed in kohl, eyelashes long and dark. Surely, they look exquisite, but I have a horribly limited imagination so who can say?
The good news is their appearance has nothing to do with the story—because this isn’t about pretty girls and parties but women (and men too) who live by faith in the Word of God.
All ten servants would have said they were there to escort the groom to the feast. But the devil is in the details, isn’t he? Despite stated intentions, similar appearances and shared sleepiness—half of the group wasn’t even close to being prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival.
Sure they had the dress and the lamp. Sure they had the good deeds and the church attendance—but they lacked oil. Which means, ultimately, they have a lamp without light which, unfortunately, is a useless kind of lamp.
Could the oil represent faith? Or the Spirit of the God? The point is they should've had enough oil to keep the lamp burning until the groom returned—however long it was.
Much of evangelism introduces Jesus to the world: Hello Person, meet Jesus. But this is one of those sobering passages that’s more about Jesus knowing us.
When the five panicked servants awaken to the groom’s arrival at night with dim lamps and no oil stash, they rush to town to purchase more. (It’s interesting they had money but not oil.) Upon returning to the feast, out of breath, eye make-up smudged, sweaty and hangry—they find the door locked.
They bang on the door. They can hear the music! It’s right there. It’s real. They can smell the food, hear the laughter. Open up, open up!
The door never opens but a voice moves through it.
“I do not know you.”
“But we know you! We’re your bridesmaids—we’re just a little late.”
“The sad truth,” Lemony Snicket writes in the Hostile Hospital, “is that the truth is sad.” Certainly for the forlorn five the truth—the one they never really believed or ever really lived in light of, was sad.
It’s a haunting echo of Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus explicitly says that not everyone who calls him Lord—believes he is. That many (many!) who do mind-blowing feats for the kingdom were never, ever citizens of it.
As we look forward during our advent-ure, let’s reverse the common (and deeply important) question. Instead of asking, “Do you know Jesus?”
Ask if he knows you.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "