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Racine, WI 53405

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Preparation and Waiting

Let me begin by saying that this parable of the wise and foolish wedding attendants and their oil (Matthew 25:1-13) is not one of my favorites. In fact, the scholars from the Jesus Seminar lean toward this not being an authentic Jesus parable, for many reasons, one of them being that Jesus was one to break down social boundaries between “insiders” and “outsiders” not draw lines in the sand. That was more of a Matthean construct – a desire to separate the sheep from the goats and reward the ones who deserved to be rewarded in Matthew’s mind. Hence, the wise attendants who are rewarded and the foolish ones who are punished.

This parable also has an apocalyptic feel about it; a feeling that at the end of the days some will get into heaven and some won’t. Personally, that isn’t my belief (though you don’t need to agree with me). I appreciate much more the Jesus who proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. To me, this gives us the starting point for reframing this passage.

Modern day spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle offers a different spin on this parable as metaphor for being awake, present and living in the now. He suggests that the five foolish attendants are symbolic of those who are living unconsciously, on automatic pilot, going through the motions of life, but not really being present. The wise attendants represent those who are conscious, paying attention to the present moment, not caught up in worry or regret, but awake and aware, signified by their ability to keep their lamps burning. The coming of the bridegroom signifies those things that are fully seen and experienced when one is conscious. Finally, the feast is enlightenment, or to use Jesus’ language, the feast is “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Apply all of this to Advent and we find ourselves approaching the beginning of Jesus’ life, while at the same time glimpsing the spiritual fulfillment he exemplifies at the end of his life. In retelling the story of his birth, we are called to a new birth within ourselves, a spiritual renewal, a realignment with the Divine Essence in and around us. We’re invited to plant a seed in the darkness within, to nurture it and help it to grow.

Right now, we have four weeks to prepare the soil of our souls (so to speak). For those of you who are gardeners, you know that in order to prepare soil for planting it needs to be loosened, and nutrients need to be added - fertilizer or composted manure.This is also our task for the preparation of our souls as we actively wait for the Coming of Light.  Life tends to turn us into dry, hard-packed, depleted soil. It is time to loosen the soil of our souls and to be fed with time and experiences that help us to grow and feel nurtured.

Advent invites us to take four weeks to wake up, center ourselves, remember what matters, and to be aware of where we are spiritually, physically, and emotionally. 

We have many ways of preparing our homes and lives for Christmas - picking out a tree, decorating, putting up lights, making cookies, sending Christmas cards, and more. But all of these things can be done on automatic pilot, without much consciousness.

When I was young, like 22, I had just gotten married we were all caught up in the "doings" of our first Christmas as a married couple. However, we didn’t take time to be present to the preparations for Christmas, nor did we take time to go to church and relish the anticipation by counting down the Sundays, ponder the scripture, singing the songs, and praying the prayers.

When Christmas finally came we had all our presents wrapped and our tree twinkling, but it felt empty. I’d forgotten to prepare my soul. I’d forgotten, or perhaps I really just didn’t know how, to bring the Spirit of Christmas with me in everything I did. But I'll tell you, never again did we skip church during an Advent season. Never again did I go through the motions without awareness and gratitude.

Be honest with yourself for a moment. How are you really? Spiritually? Physically? Emotionally? If you were to rate yourself in each of those categories from 1-10, how would you rate?

Personally, I give myself a 8 in the physical category. But, if I’m honest with myself and with you, my spiritual and emotional states are a little weak right now. What does that mean? It means I have some things that are weighing on me and I’m feeling a little fragile this season, which is truly unlike me. Unfortunately, that seeps over into my spirituality, and my physical well-being as well. It’s all tied together.

What will I do? I’ll deal with the issue, instead of trying to ignore or bury it. I’ll be gentle with myself and leave time for the things that bring me joy. I’ll watch White Christmas and play Christmas music on the piano. I’ll look for the beauty around me and intentionally remember my blessings. I’ll try to worry less, because worry keeps us from living in the now. Corrie ten Boom said that “Worry is like a rocking chair, it keeps moving but goes nowhere.” I’ll prepare the soil of my heart, knowing that this year it needs a little extra fertilizer!

Megan McKenna writes, "Zen Master Dogen teaches that we should live each day, each hour, in the same frame of mind as that of someone falling from a horse! He says that at that moment, there is no time to relearn or undo the past, no time for recriminations or even for looking around. All depends on that instant on readiness. Another way to describe this readiness is expectant waiting, attentiveness to what is most important.” 

Waiting for Christmas, while difficult for a child, is truly a gift for us as adults, allowing us to prepare our hearts and souls to receive the spiritual (as well as physical) gifts of the season.

Love & Light!