Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this Last Sunday of the Church Year give us opportunity to discuss the difference between getting ready and being ready. This is something that we all have experience with. We all understand this difference conceptually, but often times when we are in the moment, we can fail to see the difference. Letâ€™s take, for example, what a Sunday morning might look like for a church-going family. When the agreed upon time to leave for church arrives, chances are, everyone thinks they are ready to leave, but the facts suggest otherwise. Those who are ready have their hair done, their clothes on, their shoes tied, and this time of year, they have their coats on. They are ready to leave. However, there is often at least one member of the family who is still running around finishing the last-minute tasks of getting ready. When asked, â€œAre we ready to go?â€, the answer is a resounding, â€œYes, Iâ€™m ready!â€ â€¦but theyâ€™re not. Thereâ€™s a missing sock to find, stray hair that needs to be tamed, and donâ€™t forget the shoes and coat which still need to be put on. This specific family member thinks and claims that they are ready, but in reality, they are getting ready. In that moment, the difference between being ready and getting ready could hardly be more stark. It is this exact point that our Lord makes in todayâ€™s text as he applies this teaching to the end times. As the end of time approaches, we must prepare so as to be ready when our Lord returns. As we consider this further, we will
1.) Consider how our Lord illustrates this in his parable of the ten virgins, and
2.) Consider how this applies to us.
2. In last weekâ€™s parable of the unforgiving servant, we saw how our Lord introduced the parable with the words, â€œthe kingdom of heaven is likeâ€¦â€ (Matthew 18:23). Notice the subtle difference in how our Lord introduces this parable of the ten virgins: â€œThe kingdom of heaven will be likeâ€¦â€ (Matthew 25:1). This shows us that the way in which this parable communicates a likeness to the kingdom of heaven is that it shows us what the kingdom of heaven will be like on the last day when our Lord Christ returns in all his glory. And so, weâ€™re told: â€œAt that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virginsâ€ (Matthew 25:1).
The fact that these ten young women are called â€œvirginsâ€ is significant because this is a word which in the Scriptures is used to describe those who are inside the church. Take, for example, Saint Paulâ€™s words in 2 Corinthians 11:2: â€œFor I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.â€
The significance, then, is that these ten virgins represent people who consider themselves to be Christian. That is to say, they represent people who are within the visible church and yet will in the end realize that they do not truly know the Lord, or he them. This is an important observation to make because it means that this parable applies primarily to you Christians sitting in the pews, not primarily to the unbelievers out in the world. Therefore, this parable offers a warning for you, lest you become complacent in your faith.
3. Now, as we consider the content of the parable, itâ€™s worth making one final big-picture observation. That observation is that we donâ€™t know much about first-century wedding practices which would help us to understand the details of this parable. What exactly was the role of virgins in a wedding? What was the function of their lamps? Was it normal for a bridegroom to be delayed in coming? Is it abnormal that the bride is not mentioned? What about the announcement of the bridegroomâ€™s arrival before he shows upâ€”was that normal? We simply donâ€™t know the answers to these questions. What we do know, though, is that our Lord is revealing something about the reign of heaven in this parable. And that something is fairly self-evident, despite our lack of knowledge regarding first-century wedding practices. Our Lordâ€™s main point in the parable is this: We donâ€™t know precisely when the Lord will return or when the last day will come, so we must be ready! And this is precisely the problem for the five foolish virgins in our parableâ€”they think that they are ready, but theyâ€™re not. All ten virgins are preparing for the arrival of the bridegroom by preparing their lamps and oil. The five foolish virgins, not unlike that one specific family member, thought they were ready. However, when the bridegroomâ€™s arrival was announced, it quickly became clear that they were still getting ready, as they were forced to go out to the dealers in search of more oil, thus causing them to miss the bridegroomâ€™s arrival. The wise virgins, on the other hand, were ready. They had prepared themselves by bringing enough spare oil to account for the bridegroomâ€™s delay. And so, they are brought into the marriage feast. Our Lordâ€™s words which close the parable further illustrate this call to be ready: â€œWatch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hourâ€ (Matthew 25:13).
4. And so, like the five wise virgins, we are called to keep watch and be ready because we donâ€™t know when Christ will return. But, how do we do that? How do we ensure that when our Lord returns or calls us home, if that happens sooner, how do we ensure that we are ready? The answer to this question doesnâ€™t have to be overly complicated. How do you prepare for anything else in life? You do two things: You figure out what you need and you keep it ready until the time comes. For example, when preparing your snowblower for winter, you may get it serviced. You check and make sure that it is in good running order and you keep a good supply of gas on hand. Then you store it in an easily-accessible place so that you are ready when the time comes. Or, when preparing for a test, you begin by studying and reviewing everything that you need to know. When the time comes, you keep that information fresh at hand by constantly reviewing it so that when the time comes, you are ready. Whether itâ€™s preparing for a snow storm, when preparing for a test, or when preparing for anything else, we all know the difference between being ready and getting ready. The one who is ready doesnâ€™t miss a beat when the time comes. The one who is still getting ready will be trying (possibly in vein) to keep their head above water when the time comes. Similarly, when preparing for the return of our Lord and the last day, we should use a similar method to ensure that we are ready. We must first figure out what we need and then keep it ready until the time comes.
5. So first, what do we need? When our Lord returns on the last day, we need faith. As Saint Paul says in our Epistle Reading for today: â€œBut since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvationâ€ (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
Or, as he says a bit more explicitly to the Philippian Jailer: â€œBelieve in the Lord Jesus and you will be savedâ€ (Acts 16:31).
Faith is that one thing that we need on the last day when the Lord returnsâ€”faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Creed provides us with a helpful summation of what this faith is. I believe in God the Father, who created me and all creatures. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person by his incarnation, his suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. And by his resurrection, ascension, and his promised return at the end of time, he has made me his own so that I may serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. And I believe in God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies and keeps me in the one true faith. This is the faith which is needed to ensure that I am ready when Christ returns.
6. But it is also necessary that I keep this faith during our Lordâ€™s long delay, so that I am still ready when the time comes. How do I do this? Of course, any good Lutheran knows that the best answer to this question is, â€œI am kept in the faith through the regular reception of the Word and Sacraments.â€ And that is true, but allow me to point out one specific element of this regular reception of Word and Sacrament which is particularly helpful for ensuring that we remain ready until our Lordâ€™s return. The Church Year itself plays a uniquely important role in our life together as preparation for our Lordâ€™s return. It does so by inviting us year after year to live in the life of our Lord and to walk through the chief doctrines of our faith. In Advent, we walk through our Lordâ€™s twofold comingâ€”his first coming in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and we also anticipate his second coming at the end of all things. In Christmas, we celebrate our Lordâ€™s incarnation. In Epiphany, we experience the revelation of our Lord Jesusâ€™ divine nature to the nations. In Lent, we recall our sinful nature, and our Lordâ€™s suffering on our behalf. In Holy Week, we walk through our Lordâ€™s crucifixion, death, and burial for our redemption. In Easter, we celebrate his resurrection and ascension, which wins for us eternal life. In the Time of the Church, we recall our Lordâ€™s teachings on the core doctrines of the faith which accompany these events. This, my friends, is one of the many reasons why regular church attendance is to important. Itâ€™s not just about â€œgetting your regular dose of Jesus.â€ Itâ€™s about walking together through the totality of our faith so that we are always reminded and always ready for when the time comes. The day is surely drawing near, and yet we donâ€™t know exactly when it will come. One thing is for sure, though. By the Holy Spirit, our Lord here offers us the oil of faith that we need to be ensured that we arenâ€™t still getting ready, but that we are in fact ready when the time comes. May our Lord by his grace keep us ready and firm in this faith until he returns at last.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.