3rd Sunday before Advent

Collect

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amos 5.18-24

Woe to you who long

for the day of the LORD!

Why do you long for the day of the LORD?

That day will be darkness, not light.

It will be as though a man fled from a lion

only to meet a bear,

as though he entered his house

and rested his hand on the wall

only to have a snake bite him.

Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—

pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;

I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

 

1 Thessalonians 4.13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Matthew 25.1-13

Jesus said: “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, 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.’

“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.

“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

 

Reflection on Matthew 25:1-13 by the Revd Sandie


As you all know, some things are easier to wait for than others. Christmas morning is a hard wait if you are a child but I would argue that it is easier than waiting for your loved one to come home from war…if they ever do come home.

The birth of a child is a hard wait if you are an expectant first time parent, but I would argue that it is easier than waiting for your loved one to die a slow death from a difficult illness like dementia.

We all wait throughout our lives. Some waiting is exciting. Some waiting causes anxiety. Some waiting is explicitly tied to God’s action or lack of action. We wait for answers from God. We wait for Jesus to come and act. We wait

 

In Matthew’s time, the early Christians had already been waiting 50 years or so for Jesus to come back. He had said that he was going to come back and that it was going to be soon.

They waited like a child waits for Christmas morning, yet the morning never came The time of reunion with Jesus did not come. It still has not come.

We still wait for Jesus today in lots of ways. We still wait for prayers to be answered. We still wait to gain clarity concerning what the future holds. We still wait for peace and justice in the world.

So, both those people in Matthew’s time and us are forced to learn the hard lesson of waiting with hope.

There are two ways that waiting can be done. As the parable says, we can come with our lamps lit and with flasks full of oil just in case the bridegroom is late to the wedding, or we can show up with lamps lit, but with no oil to spare.

Those who come prepared with flasks of extra oil are considered wise. And, unsurprisingly, those who came with no provisions are the foolish. Their lamps  burn through all their oil long before the bridegroom arrives, and the foolish are then unable to light his path. They cannot fulfil their purpose.

It all seems rather easy when it is put that way. Just make sure you are wise and find yourself prepared.

But, what if you have been praying for a long, long time for something, and God still has not provided the answer? Waiting is not as easy as, “Just make sure to bring more oil in the first place.”

Yet what makes me cross about this parable is that the bridesmaids who brought the flasks of extra oil did not share.

We know, it is to prove the point that those who expect to wait for God to act over the long term are faithful and wise, and those who lose faith when God has not acted after a couple hours of praying for something are faithless and foolish.

But, what if you have been praying and praying for God to act, and God has not. How is it helpful to be sent away, alone, to go deal with it yourself? Why, just at the time you need people to be there for you, do those around you say, not explicitly but through their actions, “We’re sorry, we just don't have the time to be there for you”?

We know that God is good and does provide answers to our prayers.  It may not be the answers we want, but answers do come eventually. The bridegroom does arrive eventually. But remember that God has all the time in the world.

Of course, God answers our needs when the time is right, but it helps if we do not have to wait alone. It helps if we have someone who will wait with us. It helps to have someone who will believe for us on the days we simply cannot believe. It helps to have someone who will refill our lamp when we are running dry.

 It is the spiritual discipline of the wise. The wise know that God acts in His own timing. The wise know to bring extra oil because waiting is to be expected when it comes to God. I just pray that the wise will be compassionate on those who have not yet learned the lesson of waiting.

It is a wisdom that needs to be shared, especially in this age where you order something from Amazon and it arrives on your doorstep the very next day. Or you want to listen to some new music, and all you have to do is simply go onto your smart phone and get it.

We do not live in an age where waiting is something we expect to need to do. If we do not get answers to our texts within seconds, we panic and think that something must be wrong. We are just not a people who understand waiting. But, that does not change the fact that those who wait well are wise. They wait hopefully, and their wisdom is a gift from God.

Waiting patiently for God is not something that you just decide to do one day

Rather, it comes from experience. It comes from God answering our prayers in God’s own time in the past, that gives us the trust and hope that God will do it again.

 

Post Communion Prayer

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Amos 5.18-24 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Matthew 25.1-13 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (3rd before Advent) ©  CBFCE 1980; Archbishops' Council 1999 / Church of the Province of Southern Africa
Some material included in this service is copyright: ©  The Archbishops' Council 2000