"Then 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. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!" Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "What if there isn't enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves." While they went away 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 also came, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us." But he answered, "Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you." Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
— Matthew 25:1-13, World English Bible
This is one of the stories of the Bible that, on first scan, seems grossly unfair. Why don't the women just share the oil for goodness sake? But if you put on a different pair of spectacles and see this teaching story through a different kind of lens, it practically glows with the heart of this season.
The wise virgins (as Cynthia Bourgeault points out in her Wisdom Jesus book) are called wise for a reason. It alerts us to the fact that they stand for the energy of Sophia, the energy of the wisdom tradition that threads itself through the canonical Gospels. Like another Virgin who we also remember at this time of year, they are filled with the oil of God within. It was not bought for them at Target, not given to them by another. Their attitude of awareness, patience, openness and mindfulness as they prepare to accept the presence of God is that of a state of mind, a flame in the lamp of their hearts, pushing back the darkness. They were sleeping but have awakened; they were in the womb and now push out into the darkness in a way that is luminous and bright.
We cannot buy the season of Christmas, any more than the foolish virgins could run to the market and attempt to buy the oil of wisdom for their lamps. Their darkness also could not be alleviated by the wise virgins because their own attitudes, their own sense of awareness of Christ within, had to come up out the cave of their own hearts. It can journey to awareness by no other route. The parable points to an attitude as intimate as a wedding and as embodied as our very sexuality, the making of God and our own soul into one. The man we call Jesus was born out of such a union and this season we are all pregnant with that wisdom, that light, and we are called to birth this new understanding of ourselves just as the sun begins, day by day, to hold dominion over the dark.
The parable warns that we do not know when the Son of Man is coming. Rather than a warning, I hope you will hear the delightful opportunity here. So often we read such lines with a false sense of doom, the fire and brimstone coals of people scanning such words at the level of the literal. But it was never intended to be heard just by the head. Listen, instead, with the heart. Find the Son within you when you embrace your family before your Christmas tree. See Him peeking around the shoulders of your harried friends. Hear Him in the bells peeling but also in the still, breathing silence of the woods. All it takes is awareness; the oil is rich within you, and the light that makes that oil dynamic and alive? Magnificent!
Merry Christmas indeed.