KEEP WATCH: THE BRIDEGROOM IS COMING!
In the name + of Jesus.
A man from
Nazareth had betrothed himself
to a young virgin from Nazareth
named Mary. They had not yet come
together as husband and wife when Mary heard from the angel that she had
conceived and would give birth to Jesus.
Joseph had not heard about the angel, but he had learned about Mary’s
pregnancy. Betrothal was a binding
arrangement, but Joseph no longer wanted to be bound to Mary, presuming that
she had been unfaithful. Instead, an
angel appeared to Joseph urging him not to divorce Mary, but to take her home
as his bride.
Back in those days, a man would be betrothed to a woman for as much as a year. When the time for the wedding came, the bride would adorn herself and have her attendants wait with her for her groom to come for her. The groom would have his attending groomsmen join with him in a procession from his house to get his bride. He would arrive at her house sometime during the week of the wedding festivities. He would collect his bride, and all would go to celebrate and to partake in the wedding banquet.
In the parable Jesus told, the bride and her attending bridesmaids, the ten virgins, were waiting for the groom to come for his betrothed. For whatever reason, the groom was detained, and so they waited. And waited. And waited. The groom took so long to come that the ten virgins all fell asleep. The groom’s arrival did not come at a time that was expected or convenient. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. (Matthew 25:6-7) The ten virgins were awakened from their slumber. The five wise were prepared for the bridegroom. They trimmed their lamps and put in fresh oil. The foolish ones did not realize that they were foolish or unprepared until it was too late. They failed in their duties to keep watch for the bridegroom.
The foolish five begged for help from the five wise virgins. They wanted oil for their lamps, but there was not enough for both. The foolish ones were told to go and buy oil from those who sold it. But would they really find any at the midnight hour? Whether they did or didn’t is irrelevant. The five foolish virgins came late to the banquet hall, and they begged to be let in. But they had not been prepared, so they were not allowed. They heard the master of the banquet utter the cruel words of judgment: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12)
Now, we might conclude that the five wise virgins were heartless because they did not share. We might think that the master was heartless because, although the bride’s attendants were late, they eventually did come to the feast. Sinful hearts always want to find fault with the master or others. The parable is not about sharing or hospitality. Jesus makes the point with the word, “Therefore.” “Watch therefore,” (Jesus said), “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming. Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven to prepare a place for you at the wedding feast of the Lamb. He will come again to gather his Bride, the Church. As part of the wedding party, it is your joy, your responsibility, and your duty to keep watch. The virgins in the parable were not clueless about the groom’s arrival. They were special guests and desired by the groom to be a part of the celebration. So it is with you. The Lord has done everything to prepare a place for you and to prepare you for that place.
So it was also for the five foolish virgins. But they were foolish because they did not have any oil for their lamps when the groom came. Their lights were extinguished. Their faith was dead. When the Groom came, only then did they realize that this was important and that they were foolish. No begging from the wise virgins could help. They could not share their oil. One person cannot believe for another. One person cannot vouch for another. Even if all ten virgins had been tight friends, not even friendship or kinship will help when the Groom comes.
Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming! When the bridegroom arrived, the five foolish virgins went off to find oil. But when the Groom comes, it is too late. The gospel is preached here and now. When Jesus returns, there will be no more preaching, no more oil, no more mercy, and no more time. Now is the day of salvation; then it will be too late. Therefore, keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming.
While this parable serves as a warning, it need not condemn you. You can find many things which can distract you from your Savior’s voice. These distractions are not necessarily evil things. You are not condemned for taking your kids to soccer games. You are not condemned for seeing the late movie on Saturday night. You are not denounced for having a job which forces you to work on Sunday mornings. These things are not evil in and of themselves. But you can easily let them distract you from Christ’s word and sacraments. That is when they become evil.
It is easy to mistake a life of pleasure with God’s blessing upon you. Your sinful flesh does not even have to work hard to make excuses why Jesus has to wait for you—until you have time, until you are rested, until this season is done, until you get past this stage of life, until, until, until….. Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming! He will not give a two-week notice or a two-minute warning so that you can get serious about him at the last moment. The five virgins were not foolish because they were floozies, but because they were faithless. Their lamps had run out. They had no oil. They did not keep watch or care. And they were shut out.
Keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming! Jesus is coming to give you much better than you have now—greater blessing, endless peace, immeasurable joy, and a bounteous feast that will never get old or stale or ruined. He already lets you sample the feast now—the heavenly banquet in which he takes away sins and keeps your faith fed. He repeats the summons week after week as his word is read and preached. Here is the oil which keeps the light lit in your lamp. Here is where you come to ready yourself, to pray for strength against temptations, to confess your sins, to confess his name, to receive his mercy, and to keep watch for his return.
Soon, the cry will go out. Soon, the Bridegroom will come. Soon, the Church will be gathered into the heavenly banquet hall. Soon, the party will really begin. Until then, keep listening. Keep praying. Keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming!
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.