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  • Kurt Reiter


Third Wednesday in Advent

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

2 Peter 1:16-19

At that time 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 ones, 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. "Lord, Lord," they said, "open the door for us!"

But he replied, "Truly I tell you, I don’t know you."

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

Matt. 25:1-13

How shall we prepare a place for the Lord? And where? This week we look at the third object that was part of the simple surroundings into which our Lord first came. And again we hope to find lessons there for our own preparation. For this lesson our focus is on Oil – and specifically Olive Oil.

Now it’s true that oil is not mentioned in the Christmas story – but it was almost certainly there! If we were to describe the birth of a baby today, we would talk about the room and the equipment, and the people involved, but we probably wouldn’t bother to mention that the lights were on. That would be a “given”. And oil’s probably not mentioned in the Bible because it was so basic to everyday life in biblical times. People could hardly have been prepared without it. In the world of the Bible, olive oil was a staple, one of the necessities of life.

It was used as a fuel in lamps. When Jesus said that people don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl, but put it on its stand so it can give light to everyone in the house, His hearers would have pictured an oil lamp.

I suppose the Gospel lesson for today – Jesus’ story of the Ten Bridesmaids (or Virgins) – is the most familiar story about oil for fuel. Five of the girls were wise enough to have oil for their lamps. The other five were so foolish that they forgot it. Foolish, indeed, for oil is basic.

Besides using oil as fuel, olive oil was also commonly used as a food, in cooking and baking. Oil was used like butter, like shortening, like cooking oil today. God sent Elijah to stay with a widow in Zeraphath. But when Elijah met her and asked for a piece of bread, she told him, “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I’m gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (I Kings 17:12) The implication is: when you’re out of flour and oil, you’re out of everything!

In addition to fuel and food, the Bible speaks of oil being used medically as a soothing salve, as an ointment. In Jesus’ famous parable, when the Good Samaritan came across the mugging victim who had been beaten and left for dead, we read that, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” (Luke 10:34)

In the Clint Eastwood type of westerns, when a guy gets shot, he pulls out a flask of whiskey, takes a swig, and then pours some on his wound. Well, long ago the good Samaritan knew that wine contained alcohol which is a disinfectant, and that oil served as a salve, an ointment to soothe and protect the man’s wounds.

“You anoint my head with oil,” the 23rd Psalm declares, maybe continuing that same picture, the Good Shepherd’s care for a sheep in need – or maybe moving into a fourth image, along with fuel, food, and salve – anointing – that special ceremony that set certain people and things apart for special service to God and to God’s people.

In the book of Leviticus we read that “Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the Tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” (Lev. 8:10-12) Kings and priests were so anointed – with oil.

We’re talking about the basics here – light and food and care. And maybe, as Christmas approaches, this is a proper emphasis, this look at basics. Because aren’t our Christmas preparations often consumed with concern over frills, over non-essentials? Like decorations, entertainment, parties, baking, what to wear, what to serve, what to buy – so much to do and so little time to do it in. All good things – I’m not saying they’re bad, or wrong to do – unless they interfere with the basics. Then they become non-essential, so inconsequential – just frills!

Not a basic olive oil concern about light, but lights on a string, colored, and blinking, and all tangled up!

Not a basic concern for food, like the widow in Zaraphath and those today who are going hungry, but cookies and fruit cake and party trays.

Not a basic concern for health and well-being, but makeup and hair styles and clothes.

We can be like the little town of Bethlehem 2000 years ago – so concerned about taxes, the census, the crowds, and all that they missed - the basic: God was drawing near!

Maybe oil – something as simple and basic and necessary as oil – can get us back to the basics:

  • Like that which is signified by food, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) God is interested in us having the food we need, and Jesus even taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) And He was even born in Bethlehem which means in Hebrew, “House of Bread.” But He’s even more interested in our “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt 5:6) That’s basic!

  • And maybe something as simple and basic and necessary as oil can get us back to the basics, like care. The kind of care the Good Samaritan gave without thinking of thanks or repayment. After he had bandaged the man and poured on oil and wine, “he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Giving to another, from what he had received. That’s basic!

  • Or back to the basics like light. Not just the light from an oil lamp, or an electric light bulb, or even strings of colored lights, but “the true light that gives light to every man.” That’s what John calls Jesus in his Gospel. (John 1:9) “In the beginning God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” And now, the Bible tells us, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4;6) And with His light shining in our hearts, He tells us to “Walk, therefore, as children of light," and “Let your light so shine that others may see, and give glory to your Father in Heaven” (Matt. 5;16) Again, that’s basic!

The oil lamps at the manger scene – so basic that they aren’t even mentioned – bring us back to the basics that need mentioning. Advent preparation involves turning to that light, “The true light that gives light to every human being,” and finding in that light who is Christ, God’s healing care and ongoing provision for us to have and to share!


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