Midnight is coming. Are you ready? The end will be here before you know it. Soon Jesus will be back. Soon St. Paul will be telling you, next Sunday, to wake up, because it’s morning. But now it’s midnight. The end of the Church Year. Advent is upon us.
Today the Church takes us behind the veil into heaven itself. We’ve heard about death and the last days, and now we hear about the final day, the eternal day. Today we see what awaits. A great and eternal feast in the eternal city is being prepared for us today. On the last “today” Christ will come and take us there.
Today Jesus illustrates an Israelite wedding for us. They were huge affairs, but they weren’t like our weddings. The bridesmaids would accompany the bridegroom to the bride’s house, where the marriage would be consummated. They had to prepare and wait for him so they would be with him for the celebration. Otherwise they wouldn’t get in, they’d be left out. That’s exactly what happened in this story.
The one abnormal thing is it took the bridegroom a while to come. It wasn’t a short wait. It took a very long time. It took so long they ran out of oil in their lamps after they fell asleep, so their lamps went out. Some had brought oil along, but just enough. It certainly wasn’t enough to share with the others. They all needed their own oil, and they would need it, as the procession happened at a very strange time: midnight.
But not everybody brought enough. Five did. Five didn’t. Five were able to join the procession when it began. Five had to run off to find oil for their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t have any with him. They needed their lamps lit so they could see their way to the house. Without them lit, they would stumble and fall and they’d never make it. So off they went to get more oil.
They had just one problem. The moment the procession got to the house and went inside, the doors were shut and locked. Nobody was getting out, though they didn’t want to leave. They’d rather be inside in the light and joy than outside in the bitter cold darkness. But those who went off to get more oil – they eventually made it, oil or not. But they couldn’t get in. As far as the Bridegroom was concerned, all the bridesmaids were there. The marriage was consummated. Nobody else could get in.
So what’s the deal? This doesn’t seem usual, does it? No bridegroom would come at midnight. He would not put the bridesmaids through such trouble and such a wait they’d all fall asleep and perhaps need lamps lit. He’d come during the day so they could party all night long, and then all week. So what’s going on here? This can’t be a normal wedding right?
No, it’s not. Midnight means one thing: the end of the world. And today’s hymns, almost all based on this Gospel, tell you Who this Bridegroom is: your Lord Jesus Christ. The bridesmaids, the wedding-guests, are you, His Christian people. Our Lord’s message to you is this: Be prepared for His return. Don’t be caught off-guard when He comes again. Be ready.
He is making us wait. The virgins have been preparing for nearly 2000 years. They are virgins. This means they are made pure and holy in the Blood of the Lamb, made to be His own possession, His own bride. They are washed clean of sin because the Lamb’s Blood was poured over them in Baptism’s holy waters as His Name was written onto them. The Lamb’s Blood itself was poured out into the fonts and chalices of Christendom when He died. He is risen from the dead, and has brought and still brings His Blood to you through the ministry of the Holy Ghost. His work is to make you holy, to make you a virgin fit for Christ.
This is very good for you. Left to ourselves we are not fit for Christ. Let’s face it, we aren’t good at watching for Christ. None of us does well at it. Think of one of the last times you sinned, and you realized you were sinning. Afterwards you were sorry you did it, but what about at the moment you did it? Did you realize you were sinning? Did you think about what would happen if God caught you at that moment in your sin? Would He let you into heaven? We do not often think about these being the last days. The last days began long ago in that century when our Lord rose from the dead and Jerusalem was destroyed yet they seem not much different than they ever have been. It is so true; we are frail mortals and that has brought upon us the bonds of sin that lead us to sin even now, both when we want to and when we don’t, even though we are believers.
We are not worthy to be virgins of Christ. But none of them were. Each one’s flame was snuffed out. For the lit lamp is faith, and the oil is God’s Word. But the five had God’s Word with them and their faith was restored. The others had no such good fortune. The wise ones could not believe for both them and for the others. They had no merits to give them either. All they had was Christ’s Blood covering them and all their sins. So off they went to join Christ, to be with Him. The foolish ones did not go to join Him. They went off to find something to get them into heaven, but they could not find it. They could not find the key or the light of life. So they were left outside the holy city with the sinners, with those whose sins were not washed away in the Blood of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.
So do not find yourself left outside the wedding feast when Christ comes again. The only way you will get in is if at the end of your life you are absolved of your offenses by our Lord and delivered by His bountiful goodness. The only way that will happen is if you are gathered to His Cross. “Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will be gathered,” He said to you last week. Where He is, there the faithful are gathered. There they receive the oil of faith. There their lamps are lit, like the Altar candles and kept burning. There they are made beautiful for Christ, as their sins are forgiven and life is given them.
So come, get the oil. This is the place where you find it. Here you are gathered around Christ as He proclaims His Word to you, as He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Here He forgives your sins and brightens your lamp. Though your sins would snuff out faith, He snuffs out your sins, and He is far stronger than they are. With your light burning, you are kept awake and prepared for Him.
With your light burning, then, you will enter the marriage feast when He comes again at the world’s midnight. He will raise you from the dead and you will follow Him into eternity. Your Good Shepherd, your Redeemer, will lead you there. You will dwell with the patriarchs and prophets, with apostles and martyrs, with preachers and your loved ones who die in the Faith. You will all be risen from the dead to live with Him forever. The ungodly will not be there to torment you. The devil will be nowhere near you. Sin will no longer encumber you. And this feast will have no midnight hour. It will never end.