Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 19th and 20th, 2016 – Mt. 25:1-13
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +
And here we are. The Last Sunday of the Church Year. It is the close of another cycle of reading through the Scriptures. We have heard the entire plan of salvation laid out, heard all that Christ Jesus has done for us. And here, at the end, we are pointed forward, pointed to the Last Day. It shall come – we do not know when – “Watch therefore, for You know neither the day nor the hour.” It’s that truth that we confess in the creed – He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And to teach us, to prepare us for His second coming, Christ Jesus tells us the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” One of the odd or strange things about living today, almost 2000 years after Christ first tells this story, is that we just don’t get how incredibly stupid and foolish these foolish virgins are. This is the ultimate “duh” story. If you were a virgin invited to the wedding feast of someone rich and famous, you had one job – you were there for one thing – to be a light bearer, to stand there with a glowing lamp and look pretty. A glowing lamp. One that has fuel. I’m trying to think of a modern equivalent of something that would be just as flat out obvious and stupid. It would be like 11 men went onto the field to play football, but 5 were foolish and didn’t bring their pads and helmets. Completely dumb.
And this plays out in the next part: As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was the cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’” And this is part that always strikes us as odd – shouldn't they have shared, made do with what they had? No, it doesn’t, it can’t work that way. Boy, the other team is awfully big and I don’t have my helmet - hey, I know, split your helmet in half and we can each wear a half, isn’t that a brilliant idea? You are either ready for the wedding, for the game, or you aren’t. If it’s the day of your wedding, and one of your bridesmaids never bothered to buy her dress and instead just wants to share a dress with one of the other bridesmaids, she’s just an idiot.
And so the foolish miss it. They knew the wedding was coming. They had their lamps. But because of their folly, the are left out in the cold. The wise are prepared, they follow the Bridegroom to the party, to the marriage feast. The foolish are left with no one to blame but themselves. They never got ready, they never cared, even when the bridegroom was late and they had extra time.
So, in the Church, for us here today, what separates the wise from the foolish? What distinguishes those who are prepared for Christ’s coming and those who aren’t? Today, just as it was in Christ’s day, those who have heard the Word of God, heard the preaching of the Gospel, can be either wise or foolish. Matthew 24 and 25 are all about the second coming and the end times – the teaching, the warning, the heads up is given. And even Christ Jesus knew that there would be those there hearing Him who just didn’t care. Who would smile and nod, and then go on with life with nary a thought. And we see the same today. What is the difference? In the parable it’s oil – do you have your oil or not? Did you bring your pads and helmet? Wait a second, we heard a few minutes ago about armor – “Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” The difference is this – the wise pay attention to Christ and His forgiveness, they receive His salvation that He proclaims and preaches and gives here in this place, gives through Baptism, through preaching, through the forgiveness proclaimed here, through the Supper. That is what gives us and builds us up in faith and love and makes us ready for Christ to come, that is what gives us salvation. Everything rests, hinges, upon hearing and receiving Christ’s gifts.
And now, we get to the dangerous part of this sermon, of preaching upon this text. We’ve got the text sorted out, we see what is going on… and now to apply it. And there’s a danger, a simple but terrible way we could apply this. We could turn this into a giant lament and gripe session about the foolish, about all the people who aren’t here, about the people who would say oh yes, yes, I’m a member at Trinity, but haven’t darkened the door in ages. There are members here I haven't met in a year and a half, folks who say that they are members but probably don't even know my last name. And I could rail against them angrily – grr, naughty people. I could be sad and wring my hands – oh, those poor fools. And either way I would just end up patting all of us on the back and saying “see how good and great you are because you are here today” and sigh and be full of self-satisfaction. Except, none of that has to do with Christ Jesus and forgiveness. None of that would be oil for the lamps, pads or helmets for the game. Even though Christ makes a distinction between the wise and foolish, dear friends, never let this text become an “us versus” them thing. The point is this – Christ is coming, and while Satan wants you unprepared, Christ prepares you.
Christ is coming. We confess this truth over and over again. And yet what does Satan, what does society tell us? That we are stupid to believe this – that it’s a waste of time. It's been thousands of years and nothing. As though the Scriptures aren’t chalk full of things taking quite a long time and the faithful waiting. But we are bombarded by this, we are attacked and assailed by those who want to cause doubts. And it wears on us – and as the text says, we become drowsy. And so we must hear the Word. We must be awoken again with the call, “Here is the bridegroom, come out to meet him.” Christ has said He will come again, and so He shall. And yet, even life itself in this world tries to drag us down. Aches and pains, death, mourning. We all see it, more than we want to. Isaiah laments this reality – build a house and someone else inhabits it; plant a vineyard and someone else gets the grapes, labor in vain, bear children for calamity. Things in this life go terribly, and we can be tempted to just not care, to run off and try to find whatever fleeting pleasure and joy we can – eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Run around like mad to make this Holiday season the perfect ho-ho-ho time of joy and wonderfully perfect because we had better have fun or else. And it doesn’t work. Something’s going to go wrong with Thanksgiving; December’s going to be a mess as it always is. The same old family fights will probably be fought again this year. Because that’s life in a fallen world.
“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” There is more. As much as Satan and the world and our own dying flesh try to make us believe that this junk in life is all that there is, there is more. Christ Jesus knows – He understands what you see, what you experience. He created this world, and on the very day that sin first messed with His creation, His coming was proclaimed – He would come to crush the head of Satan, to put to right what had gone wrong. And He knows what life is like here – He Himself took on human flesh, became man, was born, had to cry to get fed, had to wait to have His diapers changed. He grew and all the junk we see, He got too, He went through. He hungered, He thirst, He ached, He was betrayed and mocked and ignored by friends. I am reminded of John 6, a great chapter – Jesus feeds the 5000 thousand. This should be an utter triumph. But instead, they want to make Him an earthly King by force, and He runs away. Then He walks on water, and the disciples are afraid. Then He proclaims that He is the Bread of Life – and people complain about the preaching. And we hear this – verse 66 – “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Jesus knows exactly what your life, what life here is like. He saw it, He lived it. And in one of the more poignant passages of Scripture, we hear this, words that we sometimes sing in service: “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
From 5000 down to twelve. Even down to just 5 wise virgins. And yet, what is the hinge? The words of eternal life – the words proclaiming the marriage feast of the Lamb that shall endure for all eternity. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, came and suffered and died, took up all that we face in this world, and He rose to give you eternal life. To fill your lamps with oil. To fill you with Himself, with His forgiveness – because He Himself is the Light of the World, and in Him, you are the light of the world, for He has given all that He is to you. Over and against everything we see, this truth remains. Because of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven, and He shall come again, and you will be raised. Come gather where His Word is proclaimed, come to where His Body is given for you, His blood poured out for you, rest in Him – and He will see that you are well and thoroughly prepared for that day when He shall come again to bring you with joy to the heavenly wedding of the Lamb and His Bride, to His feast that will have no end. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +