I can't hear this Sunday's parable -- the wise and foolish bridesmaids from Matthew 25 -- without the voices of the St. Olaf choir in my head, turning a simple unison spiritual into a humming, burning, driving plea for watchfulness.
It's an Advent theme in early November (indeed, I'm persuaded by the argument that Advent really begins with these eschatological lessons in November), one likely to be overshadowed by the need of most congregations to "do stewardship" before Thanksgiving. Ah, well.
In tough economic times, it might be easy to hear this parable as one about prudence, about conserving resources (not that that's a bad thing) so as to be ready for tough times.
Next week's gospel will go after the "caution as stewardship" model, but this week perhaps the question is to simply ask, "What kind of oil are we talking about here?" What kind of lamps are these? We're not talking about keeping the lights on at church.
I submit that the oil that watchfulness requires is cost-free and carbon-free. To wait and watch for the bridgegroom's coming is to expect God to show up, and to accept that you don't know when. To wait and watch means you keep at it even when you can't control the circumstances (a good thought for an election eve), to expect that God is up to something even when you have no idea when God's action will be evident.
The oil we need is clean-burning. It's the oil of hope, the oil of prayer, the oil of everyday, non-stop acts of kindness and justice and love that the world won't notice. It's the oil burned by the saints gone before us (I'm mindful particularly of Barack Obama's beloved grandmother on this night). It's the oil of God's grace which never runs out, and which fills our lamps again and again when we keep watch for God's promises to be fulfilled.