In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We have reached the end of the Church Year. Next week we will begin Advent and all our joyous preparations for Christmastime – but this week it is the end of the Church Year, and we look forward to the end of Time, when Christ Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. And so it is fitting that we look to this parable where Christ describes what the end will be like – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins – for this parable tells us how we are to be prepared for Christ’s return, how we are to be prepared for the life of the world to come. Let us examine our Lord’s Words, and from them be prepared.
“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 ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” Note, dear friends, that this is a parable aimed at just Christians. This parable is not talking about the good, nice Christians as opposed to the bad, bad pagan hordes out there. There are ten virgins, and all know that the Bridegroom is coming, all are going out to meet him. This describes the Church – we who know that Christ is coming, we who know that He shall return. Even the foolish virgins know that the bridegroom is coming. The foolish ones here are not gross pagan unbelievers, but those who claim to be Christian themselves. Let us see what happens.
“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” This parable isn’t about what you do to be a good Christian or a bad Christian – it isn’t about how hard you look out for Jesus, it isn’t about how you work really hard and make yourself ready for Jesus. They all sleep, they all become drowsy. When Christ returns, none of us will expect it, we will not know the time or the hour – when He comes again our heads will be jerked up to look at the sky along with everyone else’s. What separates the wise and the foolish isn’t that the wise are stronger and remember to stay awake – all fall asleep. They all drop the ball. Or, as Paul says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You won’t be ready for Christ’s return because you are somehow a better person than the person next to you, your own strength isn’t what prepares you. No, what distinguishes the wise from the foolish is something else.
“But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins 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 yourself.’” The difference between the wise and foolish is the oil. That’s what separates them – that’s the only thing. Both were sleeping, both knew what was coming – but when it comes – the foolish aren’t prepared. And they miss out. And so they hurriedly seek out oil, but then – “And while they were going 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 came saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’” They are left out – they had ignored the oil, and they were unable to put their lamps to use when they needed to, and they are left out in the cold, they miss the feast.
So, what is the oil? That’s the key, that’s the point of differentiation. What is the oil, what is that which makes us prepared for Christ’s return? The oil is the Word of God and God’s own Sacraments. Think on this. What powers you, what gives you strength as a Christian? It’s nothing of yourself – but it comes from God. And how does God give you strength, how does He come to you? Does He just zap you? No, He comes to you through His Word, He comes to you in the Waters of Holy Baptism, He comes to you in Holy Communion, and by these means He forgives your sin and strengthens you and prepares you for this life and the life to come. Just as oil lets a lamp burn, so Christ’s Word causes our faith to shine.
What happens to a lamp that has no oil? It goes out, it goes dark, it becomes useless and vain. Likewise, what happens to a Christian’s faith when it stops receiving the Word, when a person decides they have no more use for their Baptism, when the Supper is despised? It flickers and dies. We don’t like talking about that. We don’t like talking about faith dying, about being able to abandon and lose our faith. But that is what Christ is warning us of. On the last day there will be those who had known better, who had known Christ, who had delighted in His salvation, but then. . . fell away. There will be those who cry Lord, Lord – but whose faith has died. . . but it will be too late.
It’s a scary thought – and one we don’t like to deal with. People even come up with false doctrine to avoid it. Once saved, always saved – that’s one way of trying to avoid this. But it isn’t true. People can fall away. Or do you not realize that is what Satan tries to do at all times – to make you fall away – to lure you away from Christ’s Church so that your faith is shattered and destroyed. Satan desires to make you a fool, to let you do the most foolish thing possible – to lead you away from Christ and have you abandon your salvation.
Christ warns us here of how subtle Satan can be. His attacks are not always open and obvious, are not always loud and brash. The foolish virgins don’t say, “Forget the Bridegroom, I’m getting drunk and heading to Vegas, woo-hoo!” Satan’s attacks can be quiet. Satan can lead to your downfall with the sin of indifference. Oh, you know about Christ – but you just slowly stop hearing the Word, you stop being fed. . . and your faith dies. The Word that feeds it. . . you foolishly see no more use for it. . . and faith wastes away, just as a lamp runs out of oil, just as you or I, if we stopped eating, would starve to death. Many of you probably even know what I’m talking about – where you yourself had fallen away – had felt as you fell away your own faith flicker – perhaps even gutter out. And then you were restored, by a friend, by a loved one speaking God’s Word to you again and restoring you, where the Spirit revives you again through the Word proclaimed and relights, rekindles your faith. It happened to King David – Create in me a clean heart O God, renew – make new again a right Spirit within me – for I had in my folly snuffed it out! We can lose faith – God does not desire this for us – but our stubborn indifference can damage, can wound, can even kill our faith. If we cut ourselves off from Christ, if we shut out His Word – we remove ourselves from Him, and we die.
Christ reminds us today why we go to Church, why we come here and hear His Word, why we receive our Lord’s Sacraments. There are many false reasons why one might come to Church. One might come to church to put on a good show – see, I go to Church, I’m a nice person. One might go to Church to make connections – to hob nob, to find people to do some business with. Happens quite often. One might even come to Church to convince God to give them blessings – see all that I do for You. All these – these are just folly. Why does God call us to His House? So that we might be forgiven and kept strong in the One true faith, that on the last day our lamps, our faith might have oil to burn, that they might be real and true – so that we might enter with Christ into the eternal feast in heaven.
God knows that this world can beat you down. God knows that Satan will constantly tempt and hound you. God knows the frailty of your flesh – and so He calls you to His house for your sake. When God calls you here it is not because He needs your praise, or He demands part of our time so that you can earn brownie points – it isn’t a matter of you having to kowtow to Him or He’ll cut off the gravy train of blessings. Church isn’t a hoop to jump through to curry favor with God. It is a gift to you for your benefit – it is where God Himself comes to you and restores you. It is where your sin is forgiven and you are given strength to endure in the world. It is where your faith is bolstered and kept strong.
Dear friends, do not despise the preaching of the Word but gladly hear and learn it. As Hebrews says, do not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourag[e] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We need Church, we need to hear the Word, we need our faith strengthened, and it is only Satan and his work that convinces us otherwise, it is only the acts of the Devil himself that whisper to us that what happens here is something we can do without. Think on how merciful God is. Before that last day, before the great feast – Christ continually comes to you here, calls you to the feast of His Supper so that you are ready for the last day. If you persist in rejecting His service here, if you are content to ignore Him when He comes to you now – why would you think you would be ready to meet Him on the last day?
Yet in His mercy, He still calls you. As the clouds of judgment gather, as this world groans ever more in travail and pain, and sin mounts and grow and the end draws near but we do not fear – Christ still calls to you here – He is the Shepherd who seeks you out and gathers you here. Make diligent use of what He offers here to you, lest you fall away and your faith dwindle and die, and at the last day you are found to be counted among the foolish. May God grant that we not fall prey to Satan, that we not starve ourselves of God’s Word, but that we hold His Word sacred, and that we remain faithful, being fed by His Word and His Supper. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.