Blogmas Day 20: “Keep Your Lamps!”

(Because I already started working on this post last night, I’m going to pretend it’s still December 20th. Don’t tell anyone–Shh…)

1 Keep your lamps trimmed an burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
for the time is drawing nigh.

Children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
for the time is drawing nigh.

4 Christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

The first time I sang “Keep Your Lamps! (Trimmed and Burning)” was, yet again, in seminary. This song is an African-American spiritual. A version of it happens to be hymn #350 in the Glory to God hymnal. (Gee, I must really love that hymnal!)

One scripture that this spiritual refers to is Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten bridesmaids (or virgins, depending on your tradition). Five of them were considered wise, and the other five foolish. They were all waiting for the bridegroom. However, while they were waiting, they fell asleep and their lamps went out. The wise bridesmaids brought extra oil for their lamps, but the foolish ones did not. When the foolish bridesmaids asked for some extra oil for their lamps, those who had brought extra oil refused to share with them, saying that there wasn’t enough. When the five went to buy more oil, the bridegroom arrived to let them all into a wedding. Because the five foolish bridesmaids were not there on time, they were not able to enter the wedding.

“Keep Your Lamps (Trimmed and Burning)” is really a cautionary metaphor. If you live in the city like I do, you probably don’t use oil lamps–maybe a flashlight. However, imagine that flashlight. It likely runs on batteries. Batteries that should always be in stock in case of an emergency. So, think of this song as saying, “Always have a flashlight and always have spare batteries on hand.”

The reason for this is because we are expecting our bridegroom. In the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as a bridegroom and the Church is referred to as His bride. The lamp (or flashlight, if you will) is a metaphor for staying ready. Jesus tells us “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son (i.e. Me), but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:35-37, NRSV).

During “the days of Noah,” people were going about their daily routines when all of a sudden, it began to rain. And it didn’t stop. And the whole earth flooded for forty days and forty nights. Similarly, when Jesus returns, it will be a very ordinary day, up until that divine interruption. We have to be prepared because we do not know when that day will be.

Similarly, the next verse (or refrain), “Children, don’t grow weary,” is an echo of the verse “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right (or well-doing)” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV). Doing what is right means doing what God commands us to do, which is to love God and each other. This simple commandment is mentioned many times in scripture and using different words. It is in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”) Jesus adds to it, in Matthew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Micah 6:8, this is phrased differently: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV). Therefore, doing what is right means seeking the welfare of all people, being kind to others, and being humble (i.e not prideful vs. not proud). Remember that you are not any better or greater than the person next to you.

Finally, the next verse I include, “Christian journey soon be over,” is a reminder that our lives are short. However, we will have to give an account to God of how we have spent our lives, even up to the words that we say (Matt. 12:36, 1 Peter 4:5). Not only that, but I believe it can refer to the Christian journey in general. The journey of Christians in this world will come to an end when Jesus returns to reunite heaven and earth.

In the meantime, are you trying to stay ready?

antique board burnt close up
Photo by Pixabay on


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.