Summary: As the wise bridesmaids were well prepared for Christ’s return -- unlike the foolish ones, so the church is called to prepare by making Provision, Protection and Praise.
Pentecost 26a Prepare for Christ Mt. 25:1-13 11/9/08
These stained glass windows on the west side of the Sanctuary come from our old church, erected here in the forties during WW II. Among them is the image of a lamp with a flame emerging from it. The University of California has something similar in its logo, as do other institutions.
Theologians dispute whether the lamp mentioned in this Gospel lesson carried by the ten bridesmaids was actually a lamp or a torch. But the point is that they were symbolic of preparing for the return of the Bride Groom: that is Christ, the husband of the church which is his bride.
The question that emerges from this lesson is whether or not you will be prepared for Christ’s return. Will you be among the foolish who took their lamps, but with no oil in them, or more like the wise, who had enough? The message then is Prepare for Christ. And within the lesson we find how to do so.
We do this, first, as we Make Provision for his return. I was at a grocery store the other day and on a large poster on the wall near the check out it showed a listing of things one must have for seven days in the event of a disaster. One must have on hand plenty of potable water, fruits and vegetables and meats, batteries, flashlights, a radio and so on. You get the picture. Here, the women who were most prepared are those who have oil in their lamps or with their lamps.
Now what is the meaning of – this oil? Some have suggested it references the Christian’s good deeds as they await the return of Christ. Even Martin Luther who stoutly reminded believers of salvation by grace through faith and not on account of works suggests that this ample provision of oil, may well be the good works of Christians as they await the return of Christ. As Matthew reminds us, “Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel but rather on a stand and it gives light to all who are in the house; let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.”
So it is, as we await Christ’s return to this earth, we continue to live like Christians. We do not pattern ourselves after the world. We do not make Provision for the flesh, as Paul tells us. We do not live in despair and dejection but rather we carry light in our soul, our heart, our eyes that others may see that we are Christians. We abound in fruits of the Spirit, even when all around us is evil and lovelessness – fruits which Paul describes in Galatians as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These fruits of the Spirit show up in us as people in a posture of readiness for Christ’s return and may well be representative of the oil in the lamp that some had and some did not have.
Now, others have suggested that this provision of oil refers more to God’s Word. As it says in Psalms: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Like oil inside of a flask or torch, it is poured into us as we read our Bibles and listen to the Pastor’s message. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee,” also says the Psalmist.
This word speaks clearly to us today and in the days of Advent ahead of us of Christ’s certain second coming. We all saw in the corner of the TV advertisements supporting the recent television ad for the constitutional amendment affirming marriage, the image and words of S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsome with a sarcastic: “Like it Or Not.” Well, the same is true of Christ’s return for all who would upset God’s natural law and for all of us . . . “Like it or not.” Such is the certainty of this word: “From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” God’s Word reveals this truth to us and it is indisputable. Though there be scoffers as the Bible promises, this truth cannot be changed: “He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
So convinced of this truth was St. Paul that he used it in an intimate sermon to the Roman ruler Felix. We read in Acts 24:25 “as Paul argued about morals and self control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and told Paul to leave until another occasion.” Felix the secular Roman ruler was gripped by the power of God’s word of a coming judgment – the bridegrooms return.