Prepared for a long wait

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Sermon for the Last Sunday after Trinity

Isaiah 65:17-19  +  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  +  Matthew 25:1-13

The Christian life is a life of waiting. Ever since the angels on Ascension Day told Jesus’ disciples that He would one day return from heaven in the same way they saw Him go into heaven, Christians have been looking to the skies, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom—for the arrival of Jesus, who loved us and gave Himself for us into death so that we might live forever at His side, forgiven, cleansed of our sins, and filled with joy, like a bride who is whisked away by her bridegroom to begin their married life together.

But He didn’t say when He was coming, except for the relative statement, “soon.” Generation after generation after generation of Christians have spent their entire lifetimes waiting. We, too, have now reached the end of another church year, and still the Bridegroom hasn’t come. We’ve spent another year watching and waiting, and now we’re about to begin another year of the same. Maybe this year will be the year of His coming. Or maybe it won’t.

The key, then, is to be prepared for Christ’s arrival at any moment, even today, AND prepared for His arrival if He delays a long time, if you have to wait another 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, 80 years. You may even reach the end of your earthly life and fall asleep in Christ, and He still won’t have come. Are you prepared for that?

The five foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable were prepared for a swift arrival of the bridegroom, but not for a delayed arrival. They were excited to meet him when they first went out to wait. They went out with their lamps. They waited for awhile. But they didn’t figure on such a long delay. The night grew long, and even then, as they waited, the five foolish virgins didn’t think to check the oil in their lamps as the flame consumed it little by little. It never struck them that they hadn’t thought to bring any extra supply along with them. It grew late, and they fell asleep, unconcerned about the state of their lamps, oblivious to their own folly.

The five wise virgins were prepared for a swift or a delayed arrival of the bridegroom. They knew he could come at any moment, or that he could be delayed until midnight. And this is what made them wise: They took their oil supply seriously. They thought about it. They calculated how much they might need and made their plans accordingly, so that no matter when the bridegroom came, they would be sure to have working lamps so that they could go out to meet him, to accompany him in his joyful procession to the wedding hall.

Now, as the ten virgins went out together to wait, do you suppose that the five wise virgins were somehow hiding their vessels of oil so that the foolish ones couldn’t see? No, the foolish ones must have seen that their companions had taken along extra oil. That’s why they finally asked for it as they were roused from their sleep. And yet, still, they foolishly assumed that they wouldn’t need any extra supply. They may have even thought that their wise companions were the foolish ones for taking such precautions and for carrying around the extra baggage. What a waste of time, money and effort! But when the cry came at midnight, ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’, then it was clear who the wise ones were, and who the foolish. But then it was too late for the foolish virgins to do anything about it, too late to get more oil, too late to relight their lamps, too late to join the procession. They tried to come late to the wedding hall. “Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Will you listen to Jesus’ warning? Will you take it seriously today? Who are the foolish virgins who waited for the bridegroom with no extra oil for their lamps? They are Christians. Christians! And not the false prophets or the false teachers, not the wolves in sheep’s clothing who go around telling lies to God’s people in God’s name and leading them astray into false belief and other shame and vice. They are Christians who start out believing in Christ. They are baptized. They are, at first, eager for Christ to come, and they may spend years going to church, with the flame of faith burning in their hearts, with zeal for the Lord and for His Word.

But time eats away at their zeal and their devotion. They begin to realize that this Christian journey through life is a long journey, a long wait. There are lots of obstacles along the way, including the sin that dwells in each of us and keeps struggling to get out, to indulge itself, to quench the fire of faith. They see their non-Christian friends or their nominal Christian friends enjoying life in this world, prospering in this world, having fun with drinking and sex outside of marriage, playing games and making money. They see their counterparts in false-teaching churches rocking to the band and giving touching testimonials and enjoying all sorts of fun programs and activities. And here we are, out in the cold night, with nothing but lamps in our hands, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Bridegroom who never seems to appear. Where is the excitement? Where is the emotion? Where are the results? They feel that the right-teaching simple-Gospel-preaching Sacrament-administering Church has grown stagnant, stale, boring. Always the same thing. Always the same, boring old…Jesus. They lose interest. They fall asleep. And the flame on their lamp flickers and dies as the oil runs out.

The flame dies, the oil runs out—zeal for the Lord dies, faith runs out, because they took it for granted. They assumed, well, I’m a believer. I’ll always be a believer, no matter what, no matter whether I actually think about my sins and mourn over them or not, no matter whether I keep going to church and listening and concentrating while I’m at church or not, no matter whether I pray earnestly to God for help and strength as I wait for Christ’s coming or not.

Faith is not self-sustaining. God sustains it. He sustains it by means of His Word as it is read, preached, heard, meditated upon, poured with water, eaten and drunk with bread and wine, and inwardly digested. God sustains faith in answer to our earnest prayers for help in this Christian life of watching and waiting, of being prepared for Christ’s coming at any moment, or after decades and decades of doing the same things over and over again.

The five wise virgins didn’t do anything amazing or earth-shattering. They just made sure they had a supply of oil handy. So, too, wise Christians don’t do anything amazing or earth-shattering. They just take Jesus seriously, and so they also take their God-given faith seriously. They don’t take it for granted. They consider God’s commandments and how they continually fall short of God’s righteous standard. They seek God’s mercy in Christ, and they know Christ to be a merciful Savior who was crucified for our sins and who wants even sinners like us to flee to Him for refuge, for forgiveness. They know that repentance is not a one-time event, but a daily state in which Christians live, turning to Christ for forgiveness, and turning away from sin and shameful words and deeds.

And because they know that they need Christ every day, these wise Christians make hearing God’s Word a regular part of their life, always hearing, always learning, always growing, always feeding on Christ’s body and blood. They pray. They attend services at church every chance they get, and they gladly attend Bible class, too, if they are at all able. They take God’s commandments seriously, so that they are always abounding more and more in works of love and obedience, always fighting against sin and temptation, always growing more and more into the image of Christ. They live a life of self-denial, daily taking up their cross and following Christ. And they do all this, because they know that they are not worthy to enter with the Bridegroom or to have His love, and yet He loves them and wants to spend eternity with them, and so their life—their true life—is not here on earth. It lies with Christ. And so their whole earthly life is a matter of waiting, waiting for the life that is truly life to appear.

Saints of God, we are in this Christian Church for the long haul, however long it may be. Be wise! Learn wisdom from Jesus. The Christian life is not glamorous. It’s not exciting. But it is fulfilling, and it is wise. Because we know the Bridegroom is coming, and we know who He is—the Lord Jesus Christ who has loved us with an undying love, and who has conquered death for us and appointed us, not to wrath, but to inherit a kingdom. When He comes, it will be well for those who are still trusting in Him, still watching and waiting for Him. Then we will accompany Him into the wedding hall, and the doors will be shut. Then the eternal celebration will begin. May we be found worthy to enter, only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Spirit, be praise, honor and glory in the Church, forever and ever. Amen

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