Ten little lamps

Dave Harvey

Several years ago during Advent, I decided to purchase a set of little clay lamps instead of candles for the Advent “wreath” on our communion table. They were replicas of the sort of lamp that was common in Jesus’s day. I found an exporter in Palestine on the Internet and for just $40 I was able to get five little clay lamps that burned olive oil. If you look up “Herodian lamps” on Google you will see something similar to what I bought.

They are remarkably small. One will fit easily in the palm of your hand and has enough oil to burn four hours or more. They really don’t hold much oil, about a third of a cup. A bottle of olive oil from the grocery store filled all five of them with some left over for refills.

This made me think again about the parable that some of you might have read in preparation for Easter about the Ten Bridesmaids. All 10 of them went out with their lamps, lamps very similar to the ones I purchased, to welcome the bridegroom and escort him to the celebration feast. Five went with extra oil in flasks so their lamps would not go out and they would be able to properly welcome the bridegroom. Five others failed to prepare and, since the bridegroom came later than they expected, their lamps went out and they missed the celebration while looking for oil at the last minute from vendors who had long since closed shop and gone home.

Jesus told this parable to illustrate the importance of being prepared for His return when evil will be defeated and the Kingdom of God will be established.

What struck me, once I got my own lamps, was how little oil the bridesmaids would have needed to carry with them to refill their lamps so they would burn all night long. If they had brought only a half cup each, they would have had enough. Perhaps this is part of Jesus’s point.

A faithful life that is ready for Christ’s return does not require extraordinary measures or strategic genius to prepare for.

In chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel are Jesus’s last words to His Disciples. In those chapters, Jesus emphasizes three pretty simple, straightforward directions to live well in preparation for His return.

First, Jesus commands us to “abide in me” like a branch abides on a vine. We stay connected with Jesus through what we can read about Him in Scriptures and what we can experience now with Him through prayer. That connection is valuable, like friendship, for its own sake and also for the power and wisdom to do the second direction.

The second is to “love one another.” Jesus emphasized the importance of Believers learning to love other Believers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I know as well as anyone that this can be a tall order, but that is why we are to stay closely connected to Jesus… to give us the patience and strength to love each other.

Out of that love, and only out of that love, we are to love our neighbor as well. And who would that be? Jesus once answered that question saying, in essence, “Whomever you meet that needs a good neighbor!”

Finally, the overall goal is to make the glory of God the prime objective. This is the big picture. Any word, action or attitude that resonates with God’s purposes revealed in Jesus’s words, actions and attitudes, will glorify God. The composer of the 115th Psalm said, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” When God is glorified, Creation experiences both His love and His faithfulness.

Abide, love, glorify. Not a lot to remember. Not a lot of baggage to carry. But it makes for a life that shines without interruption through the darkest night until He returns.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. This month’s contributor is Pastor Dave Harvey, who has served as pastor of Grand Marais Evangelical Free Church since February of 2008.

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