Today is the Last Sunday in the Church Year. Again we turn our thoughts to our Lord's Return in glory. Every year the Church does this, because she is obedient to Christ's command to keep watch.
So your Lord says to you today: "Be on the alert! Guard yourselves! For you do not know the day or the hour. Be vigilant!"
Five of the virgins in our Lord's parable were wise and ready. Five were foolish and unprepared. Five of them had enough oil. Five ran out.
Why would anyone be unprepared?
Perhaps the five foolish virgins were unprepared because they had a false sense of security. Maybe they said, "We have oil enough for now. We need no more."
But faith is not only for this life. You never get enough of the Lamp of the Word. No one can ever have too much of it. The faith that the Word creates must be strong enough to carry you through this life, and lift you up to the gates of Paradise.
Some people only want enough of the Word to make them feel good. Some only want enough to help them with their daily life. They think they need no more.
Sometimes you may feel like you're just taking up space in a pew. Sometimes, you may think of this Divine Service as hard work or as something boring that you'd rather skip. Sometimes, your weak flesh does not want to hear more of God's love because it does not feel like it's getting what it wants. Sometimes, even lifelong Christians get tired of the Word.
On the other hand, perhaps the reason the foolish virgins ran out of oil was because they procrastinated. Maybe they said, "We can always get more oil later."
But the Last Day can come at any moment. In the blink of an eye, everything can end. That can mean the end of the world, or simply the end for you. Death can come at any time. It is not enough to get ready later. You need to be ready now.
When the Judgment comes, or you breathe your last breath, it will be too late. You can buy no more oil for your lamp when the shops close and the distributors of grace have shut their doors. The sleep of death will whisk you away, and then you will face the judgment of God, ready or not.
Are you ready now? Here you are on Sunday morning, and it's good you're here. But guard your heart, that you do not secretly reject the Word. A part of you always wants to reject. So make sure that you treasure this Divine Service as the greatest good on earth.
You should always hunger for more of the sweet Gospel, and receive at other times, like Bible Study and Private Absolution. You should not put off God's Word for later, when your schedule gets less busy. That day will probably never come.
On the other hand, perhaps the foolish virgins ran out of oil because they depended on the faith of others to get them to heaven. Maybe they said, "My husband believes, so he'll get me to heaven," or "I've been a member of this congregation all my life," or "I watch Billy Graham on TV. I must be a spiritual person."
Instead, you see to it that your own Lamp is filled to overflowing. Be diligent and alert at all times. Give every effort to know Christ.
As Christ says, He must know you. The way He knows you is through His Word and Sacraments. So being prepared for Christ's Return means nothing else than for Him to fill you with His Word and grace. To be unprepared is to resist or reject the Word, or think you need no more grace because you're OK the way you are.
Why would anyone resist the grace of Christ? It is the worst kind of foolishness to push away the free gift of life and salvation. But that is what every person has done at some time or another. Whether secretly in your heart, or openly in your actions, no one has treasured God's Word as they should. At some time, everyone has taken the grace of God for granted, or been lazy toward the Word.
The five foolish virgins received the Word, and they seemed to belong to the Church, since they carried their lamps and waited for the Bridegroom. But they did not want their oil to overflow with grace. That would be messy and embarrassing. They didn't want too much.
On the contrary, faith sees nothing better than the Word and grace of Christ. Faith is never satisfied, but always wants to hear more of the Word. Faith hungrily devours, and then looks for more.
This faith is no ordinary thing, but is the gift of God that He works in you through the Word and Spirit. The fact that the foolish lack oil in their lamps is their own fault, since God freely gives all that you could ask for and more besides.
This also means that your faith is far more powerful than you could ever imagine, since it is not your work, but the work of God. Your faith is powerful enough to lift you up to the highest heaven and the right hand of God. In fact, that is where you are already seated with Christ, so incredible is the gift of faith God has given you.
This preparation of getting ready and staying alert for the End is not your effort at all, but the work of God. Hearing the Word is not hard work, but rest from work. It is the true fulfillment of the Third Commandment, which is the Sabbath Rest of God for you, here in His House.
What is better than hearing these sweet words about the gracious love of God for you? His tender mercy exceeds any mortal love, far more than any bridegroom on his wedding day.
This grace of God is no immature love that falters at the least offenses. God's mercy is totally undeserved. When you were still a lost sinner and an enemy of God who had no regard for His Word, He sent His Son to save you. Although you have not treated His Word as you should, yet His love for you is true and unwavering.
This sweet love sacrificed all, as God took human flesh with all its pain and tribulation. He bore your sins up to Calvary, and suffered the worst agony possible — so great was His love. He sealed His love by turning death into life for you on Easter.
The pure Word of grace has delivered this same Cross and Blood for you. The Word has driven you to faith, and keeps you in repentance. The Word has filled you with the Spirit, and given you an eternal inheritance. The Word has set your life in order, by canceling all your debts and making every moment of your life right in God's eyes.
All this is the effect of the Mighty Blood of Atonement that Christ has shed for you. The perfect love of God for you is His Son, dying for your sins. That crucified and bleeding love is what makes you ready for the Judgment.
You should have been rejected by God. His holy Word should have been removed from each stubborn and rebellious heart that lacked true reverence. But He has not done that. He accomplished your full salvation in the work of His Son, and delivered it to you freely through His Spirit. He did not wait for your love of His Word to bring you to Him. He came to you and freely gave you what you could not accomplish.
A Day is coming when He will give you even more. When this life of seeing God darkly through the Means of grace are ended, then you will see Him face to face, and He will throw open the doors to unimagined treasures of glory, and you will feast upon His grace and mercy for all eternity.
For the Bridegroom of the Church is coming soon. He is ready and anxious to celebrate His marriage feast with His Bride.
You are the wise virgins in the parable. You await the arrival of the Bridegroom who is Christ. Yet you are not merely waiting to witness someone else's wedding. When you arrive at the wedding-hall, which is the new heaven and the new earth, then the Bridegroom will turn to you and say, "Welcome, my Beloved! Come and share all eternity with Me! Enjoy the Wedding Feast that has no end!"
So you will celebrate and enjoy as no people have ever done on earth, forever and ever. You cannot imagine how glorious it will be.
Until that wonderful Day, God keep you faithful in His Son, by the work of His Spirit. Amen.
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