✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Parents will use various techniques to try to get sleepy children awake and moving in the morning. Some may try to gently coax their offspring into a state of alertness. For me when I was young, I recall a combination of my Dad singing annoying morning songs and my Mom pulling the covers off of my bed.
The parable in today’s Gospel probably more closely resembles the latter approach. This parable is used by our Lord to disturb and unsettle and wake us up. He wants to rip off the covers and rouse us from our spiritual slumber. It is appropriate then that this parable comes around on the Last Sunday of the church year. Today’s readings direct us to the fulfillment of all history at the return of Jesus Christ. That day will come like a thief in the night, suddenly, unexpectedly. No one knows the day or the hour. Since that is so, we should not be lethargic or sleepy. We need to be ready and alert. In the words of St. Paul, “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” Or in the words of Philipp Nicolai’s beautiful chorale that we just sang, “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” This is no time for our souls to be sleepy.
It is important for us to be shaken awake. As the church year ends today, we should be mindful not only that the church calendar is about to be turned to Advent, but especially that our Lord’s return is closer now than it has ever been. Our own death is closer than it has ever been. Time moves so quickly. The night of this life flies by rapidly. As the Psalmist reminds us, even at our best state, we are but vapor.
Yet even though we know this, still it is so easy for us to become drowsy and distracted in this world. It is so easy for us to live as if there will always be a tomorrow. We can sleep walk our way through this life, without taking seriously what it means to live by faith in God and by love toward our neighbor. There are so many distractions and diversions that can keep us from focusing on the one thing needful, the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s Supper. Our work and family commitments, our hobbies, our screens anesthetize our souls and put us into a blissful apathy when it comes to the things of God. As we drift off, we say to ourselves, “No need to go overboard on this Christianity stuff. You’ve got this covered well enough. Just do what makes you happy.” Our generally comfortable lives have the effect of a spiritual Benadryl or melatonin on us. The things of this world hypnotize us and put our souls in a fog. They lay us down in a soft, comfortable bed. So our Lord speaks this parable to wake us up. Repent! Are you ready for His arrival? Are you awake and prepared? We do not want to be like those who are satisfied with their own good living, or content with their disordered desires. We do not want to be foolish, saying, “peace and security,” when we know that the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Notice that all ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom and expect to be with him for the reception. They all assume they will be at the wedding feast. Yet Jesus also tells us that five of them were wise and five were foolish. The foolish virgins were foolish precisely because they were not truly ready for his arrival. They had failed to prepare fully and properly. They did not bring enough oil with them and so, when they fell asleep, they did not have enough time to find more oil for their lamps. The wise virgins, however, were wise precisely because they were well-prepared. They made sure that they had plenty of oil; no matter how long the wait they would still be ready. At midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” “The reception is about to begin. Get your lamps and come into light of the feast.”
The ten virgins in today’s Gospel are symbolic of the Church. They all have a lamp. The lamp is the Word of God, as it is written, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The oil within the lamps stands for the Holy Spirit, who keeps the flame of faith in Christ burning brightly.
The foolish do not give proper attention to the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit. They forget who they are in baptism; they ignore the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s Supper, or merely go through the motions, and so the flame of faith dies. The wise, however, are those who attend to these gifts of the Spirit, and who therefore have an abundance of oil. Faith’s flame glows.
To live for the arrival of the Bridegroom and the joy that will come at Christ’s return is to be truly wise. To refuse to view things according to the illusions of this world and instead to look at everything according to the reality of God’s Word, that is wisdom–even when the foolish at first appear to be smarter and happier. That’s something we need to be prepared for–for the world to look down on us and even mock us for our focus on Jesus and His return. It’s not always going to be easy. But when the call comes at midnight, the foolish will be left in a panic, scrambling to get oil, banging on a locked door saying “Lord, lord, open to us!” and hearing the harsh words, “I don’t know you.” “Depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)
Let us, then, learn the lesson of today’s Gospel well. Jesus puts it very simply and clearly, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Let us persevere in the faith and in prayer even when the bridegroom is delayed. Let us hold fast to God’s Word, hear it, learn it, take it to heart, live from it.
For the One who is coming is that true, heavenly Groom who is perfect love in the flesh, the One who “gave Himself up for His beloved church, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water and the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27). He is coming for His bride to take her unto Himself.
The good news in today’s Gospel is that God has granted you to be the wise in this parable. For the Holy Spirit has made you wise unto salvation through the Gospel of Christ the crucified. “Assuredly,” the Lord says, “I know you in your baptism. More than you have watched for me, I have watched out for you. My eyes are on you to save you. I have redeemed you and claimed you as my own.” You are made ready for the wedding feast on the Last Day because Christ prepares you for it by giving you a foretaste of the feast each week in Holy Communion. He comes to you even here and now to comfort you with His love and fill you with His life. The Gospel cry rings out in this place today, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming! Go out to meet Him at His holy altar!” You won’t be surprised or caught off guard at Jesus’ second coming because you’re already in the habit of going out to meet him in His divine service.
So, brothers and sisters of Christ, look to Jesus and His gifts, and the oil in your lamp will never run out. He gives it to you in abundance; there is never a shortage of supply with Him. Look to Jesus Christ and know that the door to the feast is open for you. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep, we might live with him.” Be encouraged that Jesus Christ has taken away your sin and death by His cross. He has taken away your punishment and condemnation. He has given you His holiness and righteousness. He has forgiven you all your sins; He has cleansed you of every evil done to you. On the day when all things are fulfilled at His return, Jesus Christ will speak to all the faithful who have fallen asleep in Him, “Wake, awake.” And they will be bodily resurrected. This includes you. On the final Day of Fulfillment, the risen and ascended Christ will say to you, like a parent waking a child in the morning “Get up, arise.” And you, and all the faithful, will rise from your grave-beds to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth forever.
“You do not know the day or the hour of His coming.” But you don’t need to know. You only need to know that it is Jesus, your Bridegroom, who is coming, and that your times are in His merciful hands.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit ✠