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. – Matthew 25:1-13
Karl Barth uses the language of waiting and hastening to describe advent; in this time between advents, we are caught in this tension of waiting patiently for the day that our God will return, and hastening, actively preparing for the day to come. Waiting and hastening. One of many seeming paradoxes of faith. They feel like opposites—waiting is quiet, sedate. But hastening is waiting in action, eager preparation when there is much to do, much to be done before that for which we wait arrives.
Being pregnant with twins made for a rather abnormal pregnancy. Besides there being two humans fighting for space under my lungs, I had dozens of ultrasounds, spent hours each week at the doctor’s office, and most importantly was told from day one that they could come at any time. After the initial shock, my husband and I settled into 8 months of waiting and hastening. They could come any day, but there was much to do, much to get ready, much life to enjoy before our family doubled. Just before my birthday in June my doctor said that she didn’t think I would make it much longer, and we entered into an even higher pitch of anticipation that would end up lasting almost two months. The trill of expectation was almost too much, a high-wire of emotion that we could not stay on very long. But that was our reality, waiting for the girls to arrive, hastening with our time.
Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins just before his death, in a series of parables about the final judgment. The parable is about the time that we live in today between comings, and the parable is about waiting and hastening. The virgins, who symbolize the Church, the Bride of Christ, are waiting for their groom to arrive. They are all waiting, but only five of them have been hastening: preparing, planning, readying themselves for whatever may come. The groom is delayed, at least, he hasn’t arrived when they expected him. The virgins grow tired and fall asleep, but are awoken by the cry that the Bridegroom has come! The wise virgins trim their wicks and go to meet him, the foolish ones have run out of oil and must go find more. When they return it is too late. It seems that the waiting isn’t enough in this parable, we must be hasteners. We must be people who are preparing, readying ourselves, waiting with action day by day.
But what does it look like to have your oil ready? Second Peter is a book mostly about the return of Christ and in it Peter says that in light of Christ’s imminent return we must live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting and hastening for the coming of the day of God (3:11-12). To hasten then is to be actively pursuing the things of God, growing in love for Christ, walking by his Spirit and bearing its fruit. Hastening means growing day by day in our devotion to Jesus, that is how we prepare, that is how we wait.
But the obvious problem is that waiting is hard, especially when our world seems to deteriorate more and more into sin. This is the advent question—how do we do this? How do we wait in brokenness and darkness and suffering? Why won’t you simply make all things right? This is the advent question, and the only answer is the advent promise; as sure as Christ came into the world once, he will come again. In the meantime, we find comfort in the words he has given to us.
Reflect: How has it been hard to wait for God to fulfill his promises?
Pray: Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications… I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities (Psalm 130). Amen.