Today is the Sunday of the Fulfillment of all things; the last Sunday of the year on the church’s calendar. The omega of all things, the Last Day when Jesus appears in great glory as King and Judge, suddenly and without warning, like a thief in the night, like a groom arriving for the wedding party at midnight.
Hear the parable of the 10 bridesmaids. They are all “virgins.” Not “good girls” and “bad girls.” Wise and foolish. This isn’t about morality, but faith. In the language of the Scriptures, to be wise is to be believing, trusting. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” To be foolish is to be unbelieving. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The foolish took their lamps but no extra oil. The wise took jars of extra oil along with their lamps.
The foolish look downright sophisticated with their cute little wedding lamps nestled in their perfectly manicured fingers. They are confident and carefree. They go about their lives as though the wedding were just another thing on their list of things to do. Go to the mall, get your hair done, go to a movie, go the wedding.
The wise look kind of foolish, if not unfashionable, lugging around those Mason jars full of oil. Silly girls. What kind of look is that, carrying jugs of extra oil? What were they thinking? They act as if this wedding were the biggest thing in their lives, the only thing. They look as silly as little Linus from the old Peanuts cartoon, sitting in the dirt, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear in his pumpkin patch.
How foolish the waiting watchful church looks! How foolish you baptized believers appear, watching and waiting for Jesus! How foolish to get up on a Sunday morning to hear God’s Word preached to you when you could just as easily read it on your own. How foolish to hear the forgiveness of your sins when you already know you are forgiven. How foolish to eat and drink a bit of bread and a sip of wine believing it to be the body and blood of Jesus your Savior. How foolish to pray, praise, give thanks when there are surely “more important” things to do. How foolish to give offerings to God when there are so many things on which to spend your money.
How foolish of the church, to be more focused on the coming of the new creation than the problems of the old creation. How unfashionable to speak of sin and sacrifice, atoning blood, forgiveness when the world wants to be purpose-driven and successful. How silly of the church to preach Christ crucified for the sins of the world, knowing full well that the world clamors for miracles and celebrity and entertainment. A theology of the cross? That’s as unfashionably silly and out of place in the world of religion as a Mason jar full of olive oil. A bridesmaid wearing tennis shoes.
Get used to it. Christians are the village idiots of religion. The rest of the religious world thinks we’re nuts for believing that we are justified before God entirely by His undeserved kindness, all because of Jesus’ perfect life and death, and not because of anything we do. That’s crazy. Everyone knows you have to earn you own way, atone for your own sins, pursue your own path to enlightenment.
We’re a ship of fools who come to church not to be motivated, entertained, uplifted, challenged, but forgiven. We die in order to live. We mock death in view of our resurrection to eternal life. We esteem Christ instead of our selves.
We’re like people throwing a pool party in the shivering dead of winter and saying, “But summer’s just around the corner.” And the world, and the world politely says, “OK….” and hurries quickly moves to the other side of the street. We bury our dead in the hope and confidence of the resurrection of the body. We dare to come into the presence of God, not boasting about all the great things we’ve done for God lately, but admitting they’re we’re a bunch of screw ups who can’t get anything right, even when we try. And world simply shakes its head at us, sitting in our pumpkin patch waiting for our Great Pumpkin to appear.
But in the end, when the midnight wake up cry goes out, those who looked foolish turned out to be wise, while those who appeared so wise, wind up looking terribly foolish, running around in the middle of the night looking for oil that can’t be found. Finding a closed door to a party for which they had an invitation. Hearing the terrible word of exclusion, “I don’t know you.” They were invited; they were part of the wedding party; they had a place at the table. But in their foolish unbelief, the are no longer recognizable.
The folly of the foolish lies in their figuring. They figured they knew the hour when the groom would make his appearance. They figured they had enough oil to last well into the evening. What they hadn’t figured was that the groom would be delayed, that they would fall asleep, that the groom would show up a midnight. Who on earth starts a wedding part at midnight? They hadn’t figured that he would show up so quickly and unexpectedly, that there would be no second chance, no opportunity to strike a deal with some oil merchant. Only a closed door and an exclusion. Damned foolish.
“You do not know the day or the hour.” That is Jesus’ last word on the timing of the last day. It puts an end to all calculations and speculations. We’re simply not given to know the times or the seasons. Remember all the craziness around the year 2000? It turned out to be a big snooze. Every attempt to predict the day and the hour for this late, great planet earth has amounted to nothing but bird cage lining.
Delay can bring a false sense of security. Jesus didn’t come yesterday. He hasn’t appeared today, and He likely won’t appear tomorrow. So there’s always time, right? God’s way of time is not the same as ours. God deals in kairos, where everything is packed into a moment; we deal in kairos, chronology – days, months, years. “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousands years are like a day.” God isn’t slow in coming; He’s patient and merciful. He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He wants all to come to repentance. But let no one say, “There’s always more time.” You do not know that day or the hour.
That came home in a powerful way on Friday of this week. A grandmother of one of our preschoolers had a cerebral aneurysm. One moment she was in the peak of health, reading a book in bed. The next moment, she was brain dead. You do not know the day or the hour. I don’t intend to scare you, but I do want to wake you up. Jesus wants His church on the alert, wide awake, watchful, ready for the cry at any hour, day or night.
God is rich in His mercy. The forgiveness and life that Jesus hung on the cross to win for the world, He gives out in not just one way, but many – in Baptism, in the spoken forgiveness of our sins, in the Lord’s Supper, in the Word as it is preached and read. There is more forgiveness and life and salvation than you and I could ever imagine. More Jesus in Word and the Sacrament than we think that we need. Enough forgiveness and life to keep our lamps burning until the Last Day. Only an unbelieving fool would say, “That’s enough forgiveness and life for me, I don’t need any more, thank you.” Refusal of the gifts is damnably foolish.
The wise bridesmadis knew in whom they hoped and for whom they waited. They lived and slept in the confidence of their bridegroom’s coming. They knew he was coming; they just didn’t know when. You know for whom you wait, and He knows you. He is the One who died on a cross for you, who rose from the grave for you, who sits enthroned in majesty for you. He is the One who baptized you, who forgives you, who feeds you His body and blood, who anoints you with His Spirit. More oil than you can possibly burn in an eternity.
To live as the wise in faith is to live in the hope and expectation of Jesus’ coming Day, whether that Day is today, tomorrow, or the next day. You can live and sleep and die in the confidence of Him who once came for you by crib and cross, who comes to you now by Word and Supper, who will come in glory on the Last Day to raise you from the dead to eternal life.
The Last Day is a new day, the true Sabbath Day that embraces every day, from the alpha to the omega, the beginning to the end. A Day with neither evening or morning, an endless Day in which all creation rests in the light of Jesus Christ. “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” “Behold, I make all things new.” Sin and death are gone. “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
That Day is coming soon. Christ is coming soon and quickly. He comes without warning. But you don’t need a warning. You know. Such faith may seem as foolish as little Linus in the pumpkin patch. But when Christ who is God’s wisdom in the flesh makes His appearance, faith will be proven wise.
In the name of Jesus. Amen