For you, O Lord, our souls in stillness wait. Truly our hope is in you. O Lord of life, our only hope, your radiance shines on all who look to you in the dark; Emmanuel, come, come light our hearts. O Joy above all other loves, in you we find more than enough. We come as we are; O heal and restore, come light our hearts. From Light Our Hearts
A Reading from Scripture Matthew 25:1-12 NIV
“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’
I think that all of us agree that we find waiting difficult. Now we are waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine – checking where our place will be and trying to be patient. Advent is about waiting – waiting for the arrival of Jesus. Today is the third Sunday of Advent, we continue our theme of waiting for the Messiah King as the Gospel of Matthew alerts us to. Jesus is a master teacher using these simple, brief stories to convey deep truths about the way the kingdom of God works. Last week we heard about the unique nature of God’s way of restoring the broken world using the metaphor of a mustard seed and yeast to illustrate the coming of Kingdom of God. Today it is about the Ten Maidens and their waiting for the bridegroom to appear at midnight.
Have you heard the weather forecast for next Wednesday December 16th – a high of 34 and a low of 21 — Winds from the Northeast at 10 to 15 mph and 5 to 8 inches of snow. Really! Winter is on its way and I have been negligent in my waiting – I know it is coming. I still have the mower on my tractor and the plow is down in the woods. I am saying – “it probably will not be so bad! I can handle this!”
As I read this forecast today and was working on the Reflection message for this Sunday, I was aware of today’s parable about waiting— ten bridesmaids— five were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom and five were not prepared—they had not filled the lamps with oil.
Here is another way to tell the story of the ten maidens: Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten people who sat down one night to watch the evening news. Before long, the All-Wise, All-Knowing and Always Accurate Weatherman appeared on the TV set and spoke. “Behold,” he said, “the first snowstorm of the year approaches, so be prepared. At midnight, it shall be upon you and in the morning, there shall be whiteness on the ground which shall reach up to your knees. Thus, says your weatherman.” Five of the ten people were prepared, so they sat comfortably in their homes and watched the rest of the news. But the other five were not prepared. They had no shovels and they wondered where they had left their winter gloves. So, they jumped into their cars and raced to the store with money in hand, desperately hoping they could lay an offering upon the altar of the Cash Register and get a shovel in return. But behold, they were too late. The door to the store was locked. The gods of commerce would accept no more offerings until the morning. The five people went home and asked their neighbors, “Do you have a shovel I can borrow?” Their neighbors said, “No, I don’t. I only have one and I will be using it tomorrow. The snow approaches and you paid no attention to the day or the hour. You should have been prepared.”
Clearly, Jesus’ parable in Matthew teaches us about judgment. Just as some people are not prepared for the coming snowstorm, so were the foolish maidens unprepared when the bridegroom came. They were locked out of the wedding feast; they were locked out of the kingdom of heaven! On the other hand, the wise maidens were let in. A judgment was made – the ten maidens were separated into one group or the other when the bridegroom came at midnight.
This parable is about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The bridegroom in the story is Christ and the story says that He is coming again. Many Christians have a hard time believing this. Perhaps we would include ourselves among those who have trouble believing that Christ who lived among us so long ago is coming back again. But consider for a moment what we give up if we do not believe that Jesus is coming back! We give up all hope for the world and all faith for the future! Do we really want to believe that the fate of the earth rests solely in human hands? Do we want to think that all we can ever hope for is more of what we already have – more of the same political divisiveness or lawlessness and violence, greed, and callousness, which the world has always known? Injustice and inhumanity will surely be our fate if the future belongs solely to us.
The Kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about is about peace. There will be peace—no more war, violence, anger, bullying, or anxiety. In fact, even the animals will be at peace with each other and humanity. Justice will be pervasive in the Kingdom. The poor, orphans, downtrodden, and less fortunate will get their just due. The arrogant, wicked, and rebellious will be destroyed so that there will never again be someone to take advantage or harm the people of God. Jesus is ushering in the Kingdom of God. And it sounds like an impossible dream or an impossible hope. But this is what Jesus will usher in when he returns – we have to wait.
In the early church, there was a strong belief that Jesus would return very soon. Paul, who wrote so many of the letters certainly believed that Jesus would return before he died, and his earliest letters strongly encourage believers to be ready for that event. But Matthew’s Gospel was written quite a lot later when people’s expectation of an imminent return had grown weaker. Perhaps, like the bridesmaids, they had begun to get a bit bored waiting and they were getting sleepy.
How much more so is that the case for us now: we have been waiting 2000 years so maybe we too are not really expecting it to happen any time soon and so we are like the bridesmaid too: getting sleepy and drowsy in our faith not at all prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps we think, “Well, it doesn’t matter if I don’t pray today: there’s always tomorrow” or “It doesn’t matter if I don’t forgive that person today: I can do it tomorrow” or “It’s not important for me to help my neighbor this afternoon: I can do it another day.” It may seem like a cliché – but it is true, that, one day, there will be no tomorrow.
Perhaps preparing for the return of Jesus, what we should be thinking about as we continue in the Advent season is more about how we can help others be ready to meet with Christ. Perhaps it is more about sharing Christ with others in word and in deed. Perhaps it is more about modeling a relationship with Jesus to our children and grandchildren, or to those we work with, or to those who work for us. Perhaps it is more about reaching out to those in need so that they can experience the redeeming love of God in their own lives through our compassion and our care.
But this, of course, is tough because no matter how much we reach out to others and seek to meet their needs, we are still aware of others who need the love of Christ who we might not be able to impact as we would like. We can help our community neighbors by building desks and collecting food, but maybe we know that we can’t help the oppressed people in Central America or the poor in the Dominican Republic. No matter what we do, there is always more to do…
But then there is a cry at midnight, a cry of joy: “Behold the bridegroom comes!” When we are most lost, that is when we are found. When we are at our weakest, that is when we are given strength. When we have reached our lowest ebb, the tide of Christ’s love comes in to lift us up safely to the shore. What darkness is too dark for Jesus? What pit is too deep, what sorrow too severe? Whatever our midnights might be in life, whatever our troubles, our doubts, our pains, or fears may be, when they are strongest at the midnight hour, that is the time for faith.
Yes, Christ is coming again – for the sake of the world, for the sake of all human hope and history. He may come tomorrow; He may come a thousand years from tomorrow. None of us knows the day or the hour. But in the meantime, we can all be sure of this: that Christ comes continually to His people, bringing us joy at midnight. Isn’t it comforting to know that in the hour of our deepest need, Jesus comes again to stand with us through the fearsome night, to the dawn of morning’s saving light?
Come Lord Jesus, Come!
 Erskine White, Sermons and Prayers for the Christian Life