Listen to it:
“Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, it’s all over-or maybe it’s just beginning. The analyzing and the predicting. The expecting and the waiting. The visions and the rumors and the counting and the looking. That’s what Jesus’ parable is about: the end of all things. (Why? What did you think I was talking about?) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36, ESV). Concerning that Day, we are all like the virgins waiting for the Bridegroom. And how long will we have to wait? Only the Father of the Bridegroom knows. What sort of provision will we have to make? Only time will tell. Who knows how many times you will wake and sleep and wake again? It has been two millennia already. “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12, ESV). So it has and so it will; everywhere lamps burn lower and lower. Everywhere faith in God and love of neighbor grows cold and dark, and lamps are going out. Because it is faith that fuels love. Love cannot burn long without faith to feed it. But faith, the trust that clings to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins-I cannot give that to you. Faith can be strengthened and sustained in this communion of saints, this fellowship in the holy things, but trust in Jesus Christ as a gift of God by His Holy Spirit is non-transferable. Only God can give you faith, the oil of life, and He is giving it out in the Word that is proclaimed here today. If your lamp is cold and dark, do not close your ears! Do not wait for some other, better time! Come and listen, knowing that you are desperate and empty-handed, and He will not turn you away. The same Lord who will one day come for those who are ready is here to make you ready. The same Lord who will one day welcome you to the marriage feast is here to give you a foretaste of that feast to come.
But how sleepy we have become! How drowsy in the warm, heavy air of the waiting room of this world. It is inevitable that we will sleep. We cannot even watch one hour with the Lord. We can scarcely say a word in prayer that we will not fall into temptation. Repent! “[L]et us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6, ESV). But see that the real problem in the parable is not that the virgins sleep. All ten sleep, and all ten awake to the cry. The problem is that the foolish ones are off somewhere else when the Bridegroom comes. The problem is that they were sleeping when they were not ready for His return. The wise ones slept, it’s true, but they slept confident that they were ready whenever the cry should come. Why do we, like those foolish virgins, look in so many other places for the fuel to enlighten our darkness? Why do we go off to God-knows-where when the Light of the world burns already in our midst? See how late the hour is: there are those whose lamps are still dark, without faith in God and without love for neighbor. See how late the hour is: the need for prayer has never been more urgent: prayer for all people, especially those in authority over us, and for ourselves, that we would not fall into temptation. See how late the hour is: people go on, as before the Flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, unaware of the deluge that is coming upon them. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:11-14, ESV).
How shall you be found as such? St. Paul says to the Ephesians that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV). Without spot or blemish, all such stains washed away in the Flood of grace, baptized into His Name most holy! Live in your baptism, beloved! It is your readiness. And such living is nothing more than confessing your sins and hearing and trusting the unconditional absolution of your God. “Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after…[W]hen we enter Christ’s kingdom, this corruption [in us] must daily decrease so that the longer we live the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride…As Christ, the mercy seat, does not withdraw from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain. As we once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old creature around our necks” (LC, Kolb/Wengert, 465:65, 67; 466:86).
So the foolish sleep of sloth and sin has become the wise sleep of the sanctified. We do not sleep as others who have no hope. We do not sleep fitfully and restlessly, tossing and turning, with nightmares rolling through our brains. We sleep like children on Christmas Eve. We rest in peace as the children of God. “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” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, ESV). We, who have slept the sleep of sin and death, and have been awakened to new life in Christ through baptism-we wake and sleep and wake again, knowing that the hour is late and the day is soon when we will hear that midnight cry: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!” And He will come and bring us in to His marriage feast. “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish [Virgins] makes clear what the Christ has made of the disciple’s life; the time of his waiting is not mere agony-he lives already in an atmosphere charged with festal joy. But this does not make his hope a featherheaded luxuriating in the prospect of the future, remote from reality and blind to the responsibilities of the present. The disciple does not wallow in his hope; he lives by it” (Franzmann, Follow Me, 181). Live by the light of your hope, beloved, knowing the One in whom you have believed. Let your lamp illumine the way to the Light of the world for those around you whose lamps have burned low or have never burned at all. As you wait, rejoice. As you wait, keep watch and be ready in your baptism. Though you are many virgins, you are one Bride. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/05/08