Sunday, November 24, 2013

More than Waiting; Watching

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Trinity
November 24, 2013
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.

Today you are confronted with who you are. You are either a Christian or not. If you are not a Christian, and no one knows this but you and God, then you need to be converted. If you are not a Christian, you are unlike all ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all wanted in to the wedding feast, one who is not a Christian wants nothing to do with God and His party He is throwing. If you are a Christian, though, you are waiting for the Bridegroom. You believe your Lord is coming to celebrate and invite you into His party.

But as a Christian, you are still confronted with who you are. You are waiting. But are you foolish in your doing so? Or are you wise? In the Gospel reading all ten virgins are Christians. They’re all waiting for the Bridegroom. The difference is that five don’t merely wait. They are watching. They are alert.

This wisdom comes from knowing who their Lord is. He is the Bridegroom. This is His day. It is His day to celebrate, those waiting know that when He comes He will invite them in to join in His celebration. It’s not just that it’s His day and His party. It’s also His way. He will celebrate, but He’s in no rush. He will even delay His coming. That He will means that those He will gladly invite in will have to wait.

The wisdom of five of them is in leaving it up to Him. The foolishness of five of them is expecting that since He’s going to come then He’s going to come according to their timeline. There shouldn’t be anything else needed than this knowledge and trust, wouldn’t there be? Those who were wise realized that their Lord, the Bridegroom, was indeed coming, but they were content in His coming in His own time. So what if we have to wait for the party to start? He certainly knows the best time.

The difference between the foolish and the wise was not that five were non-Christians in comparison with the other five. It wasn’t that they were waiting, either. All ten were waiting. They all believed He would come. The difference between them is that the wise virgins watched while they waited. They were on the alert. They didn’t just know He was coming, they were ready for Him. Not only did they believe He would be coming, they were prepared for when He did.

The foolish? They believed He was coming, but they just thought He would come soon and so they could just hang around for a bit and then have fun at the party. There was no thought that it might be a while before the party began! So there was no preparation. They weren’t on the alert. They weren’t ready.

The Epistle reading today has something to say about this kind of preparation. “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 are awake or asleep we might live with him.” In Jesus’ parable all the young ladies were waiting. This is who we are as Christians. We’re waiting. We know Christ is coming and so we’re waiting for Him. Those who aren’t waiting for Christ to return in glory, to welcome them into the eternal glory of heaven, aren’t Christians. Why would they wait for someone they don’t believe in?

But those of us who are Christians, we’re waiting. He has promised to return on the Last Day and so we’re waiting for Him. The question is, are we prepared? The problem with the foolish virgins isn’t that they didn’t believe. They did. They were waiting just like the wise virgins. The problem wasn’t even that they fell asleep. The wise virgins did as well. The problem is that they weren’t ready. They didn’t come prepared. The wise virgins came prepared.

If I am going on a camping trip and I check my flashlight beforehand, that is wise. But if I see that it shines a strong bright light and so determine that it’s ready to go, that’s not all that wise. If I don’t bring extra batteries, I can’t use the flashlight if the batteries die. If I bring extras batteries and someone else asks me for batteries because theirs have died, if I give them mine then I will be out of luck if my batteries die.

Christians know Jesus coming back. This is what we believe. And we know that He said that we don’t know when. So He said, “Watch.” Stay awake, as in “be alert.” Be prepared for the day, so that when it comes, you will be ready. It doesn’t mean you can’t sleep. As Paul says in the Epistle reading: “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” As Jesus is in the Gospel reading, Paul is preparing us for the Last Day, for Jesus’ coming again in glory. Jesus tells us the nature of this event. It will be the Bridegroom returning to His home for the big party after the wedding. It will be us, Christians, waiting and then invited in to this great wedding feast.

Why is He the Bridegroom? Who is Jesus that He tells us that when He returns on the Last Day it will be as the Bridegroom, excited to welcome those of us waiting for Him into His eternal bash? It is because we Christians are the Bride of Christ. We are His Bride and He is our Bridegroom.

That’s who He is. That’s who we are. Why has He married us? Why has He desired to join with us in this eternal union of Husband and Wife? Paul tells us that also in the Epistle reading: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” The vows husband and wife take are vows of undying love, “through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part.” Our Husband, our Lord Jesus Christ, loved us to His death. It was His very death that brought us into this matrimonial union with Him. That was the wedding. The Feast is about to begin. When He returns on the Last Day we won’t have to wait for it any longer. All preparation will be fulfilled. We’ll go into the Feast and we won’t need our lamps anymore.

“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.” The wise virgins, like all Christians, are those who are waiting. They are also the ones who are watching. They are alert, they are ready. The foolish Christians have no need of this. It’s enough just to know that they’re Christians. The wise Christians are in eager anticipation for their Lord, their Husband, the Bridegroom, to return. That’s why they are prepared. They bring oil along with them for their lamps.

Today you are confronted with who you are. You are also invited, before being invited into the Eternal Feast, to be prepared. How do you stay ready for the Day of the Lord? The lamp you have has been given to you by God Himself. The extra oil you have can only be given you by God Himself. If you have no use for the extra oil your lamp won’t do you any good because when your Lord returns you won’t be ready for Him and you’ll be shut out.

The only way you can be prepared is by waiting in the way God has given you to wait. A waiting that is a watching. A waiting that is an alert waiting. A waiting in which you, whether you are awake or asleep, are in the Lord. How did Paul say it again? “Whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” The might is in there because even though many people are Christians, many of them are foolish. They’re in the Lord, but are they living in such a way as to remain in Him? Are they alert in their waiting for Him? No, they go through the motions. They have their lamps, but that’s all they need. They don’t need all the extra oil, because they just know Christ is coming and that’s all there is to this business of being a Christian.

The wise virgins knew their Lord, the Bridegroom, was coming. But they also knew who He was. He was the one who wanted them to be in the celebration with them! How do you prepare for that? By being in the ‘pre-celebration’ of it, so to speak. If He wants to always be with us and us to always be with Him, then what are we doing if we remove ourselves from the way He comes to us now? How do we think we’ll be prepared if we are not filling our lamps with the oil of His Gospel, His forgiveness, His grace, His strength, His love? Isn’t that foolish? Isn’t it too much to ask to just to rely on your believing and you’ll be okay on the Great and Last Day?

Shouldn’t you rather be aware, daily, that you are utterly foolish on your own and that the lamp of your faith will quickly go out apart from the continual filling it up with the oil of your Lord’s Gospel? And isn’t it a little hypocritical to think that you can just believe in your Lord and not live in the way He has given you to live? In love and service to others; in humility and grace toward others?

On this day you find out who you are. And why this day? Because that’s the reading that has popped up for this day of the Church Year? No, because this is the day of salvation. It could be any day that your Lord returns, whether you are ready or not should not be left up to chance. He has given you His warning: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” If you are wise, you won’t hear this warning in fear but rather in expectation. You will hear the message of your Lord, your Bridegroom, as the one who is calling you to His Feast, His eternal celebration of His marriage to His Bride, the Holy Christian Church. You will be prepared by daily going back to your Baptism, in which you have been united with Him in His death and resurrection. You will eagerly hunger and thirst for His righteousness you are brought into here at His Table as He gives you often His body and blood. You, dear Bride of Christ, will be wise, for your Lord Himself, your Bridegroom, has made you wise unto salvation. Amen.


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