A Story of Waiting: Christmas and Kingdom


Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
I do not understand what it is like to sit with lamp in hand and wait for a bridegroom, but I do know something of what it means to hold a lit candle at a midnight Christmas Eve service and wait for “Christmas” to happen.
In this season of Advent, today’s Office reading of Matthew 25 (above) feels particularly relevant. After all, waiting for the second coming is probably a little like waiting for (and remembering) the first. But for those of us who don’t wake each morning wondering “Is Jesus coming back today?” or “How can I be ready for my Savior’s return?”; for those of us who don’t even know how to summon the FEELING of excitement and anticipation right now; for those of us who don’t want to go to sleep, but don’t know what it means to stay awake . . . how do we receive the good news of this Scripture?
For us, I believe God wants to extend grace and a new way of thinking about readiness.
Even if we don’t go around begging the rapture, aren’t we, at times, ready to see this all made right? Don’t we each have moments when we long for the kingdom of God to plop its full self down in our midst and make everything brand new?
All over Scripture we are given pictures of what the coming kingdom of God looks like: justice for the folks who never got it, food for the poor, communion with God, plenary worship, peace among the nations, farm equipment instead of spears and swords (Isaiah 2), a people whose perfect bodies and perfect minds are employed toward worthy ends.
Still, maybe our hearts do not know how compute this kind of reality. Maybe we can hardly believe it, much less understand Christ’s call for us to live in readiness for it.
First, let our response be one of prayer for the gift of faith. And then? Rehearsal. Rehearsing the kingdom. Then practicing and performing kingdom. Posturing our bodies to shape kingdom, we must make our limbs extend kingdom. Out of the dirt, we must cultivate kingdom. We must draw borders with kingdom chalk. Always we must be giving kingdom away. We must take time, as if eternal, like kingdom. With the liturgy, our mouths must form the word: kingdom. Finally, we must eat the sacrament til kingdom come.
I expect what we will find, through all this rehearsal, is that a kingdom hope will really grow in us. Slowly, our hearts will turn and we’ll begin to long for the thing. In a very real and corporeal sense we will embody the readiness we were seeking. But something more, in the midst of all that habituating justice and peace and worship, we will have accomplished something besides “ready—we will have accomplished also already. When we participate in the Spirit’s work, the kingdom is here, among us, among neighbor.
In this way, when Christ returns it will be evident who is ready by who has participated. The farm equipment will already be conformed to our hands, the way it is when husbandry is a lifelong vocation. 
The candle will fit in our hand also.

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