In the week before Jesus died, the cat-and-mouse games in which the Pharisees tried to trap him filtered every conversation in and around the temple. The Pharisees had no love of truth, only of being right. Jesus was everything that was truth. So, when he stumped the Pharisees enough that they stopped asking questions, he naturally turned to his friends, the disciples, making sure they knew what was true. “Don’t live as one having to be in charge, serve everyone. Live always as one who cares for others more than themselves. Life as you know it will not always look like this. Even the Temple will be leveled so thoroughly you will be shocked.” When the disciples asked, “When will these things happen?” Jesus answered them clearly, personally, as one friend speaks to another. “Here’s what’s going to happen. When you see these things…” And then he told stories.
Ten bridesmaids waited for the bridegroom to come get his bride. Jewish marriage customs required the bridegroom to negotiate for his bride with her father. After arriving at a suitable dowry, the bride and groom would be betrothed. Betrothal was such that from that moment on the bride was declared to be consecrated, set apart exclusively for her bridegroom. The marriage is not consummated at that point. Then he leaves her for one year to prepare a home for her and she uses the year to prepare for married life.
Imagine the anticipation and longing that would build as they both waited. The bride for her groom and the husband for his wife. How tempting it would be to dampen the expectancy as the days unfold. Then comes the month, the week, the day, and then the hour when the bridegroom is to come. Except that he is delayed. So, the bride waits in her house without word, only relying on his promise while her friends wait outside for the groom. The delay lengthens. Does the bride doubt his coming? The friends fall asleep.
I wonder if we feel some of these same things. “Lord, we’ve been waiting so long. I thought you’d be here a long time ago. Where are you? Are you ever going to come?”
It was into this atmosphere of sleepy forgetfulness that God sent his Son. The only shout of his coming was a baby’s cry. Israel had given up hope for the long-awaited Messiah. When he came, they did not want to wake up to a groom different than they envisioned. They did not want to consummate the marriage of God and man begun years before on a promise. They did not want to give up their self-crafted lives in order to be joined to him, and in the joining…changed.
The first call of Advent comes to us through a baby’s cry: “Wake up! Wake up! I’m here! Are you ready for me?”