In a world where election news and pandemic news have made us long for the days when we argued about simpler stuff like whether or not it’s too early to listen to Christmas music or not – it is – the church, ever on the cusp of relevance, has deemed a time within the liturgical calendar to talk about the end of the world. But not the election end of the world or the pandemic end of the world or any of the other plates you’re trying to keep spinning but keep wobbling and convince you that it’s the end of the world. The real one the one. Where Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. That end of the world. The one where time ceases and that great endless day comes upon us and the dead in Christ are raised together with all of us alive to be caught up together in a cloud with the Lord in the air. That end of the world. Because as much as I was told that the election would usher in the end of days, thus far at least, it has been unsuccessful. Twitter was proven wrong once again. So watching everything wobble but not actually fall, we’ll hear a parable today about wise and foolish virgins, oil and lamps, and the bridegroom who is late to his own wedding.
You’ll all nod sagely and pray come Lord Jesus with approximately one gazillionth of the attention that you gave to news pundits this week telling you over and over and over again “there are still more votes to count. We don’t know yet. But just keep watching.” And for days on end, you did. I know it because they got paid to say it over and over again. But still, come Lord Jesus. Our Lord is late too. Look around. He told the disciples as He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand Father that he would be back real soon. The truth is it’s a mess down here and we need Him. The truth is after like 2000 years of him saying “yo brb” it’s just hard to take it seriously. I don’t wanna call Him a liar on account of the fact that He rose from the dead, but still if we have an entire season in the church you’re dedicated to the end so that we would remember that we’re not allowed to be too comfortable down here because our Lord is coming back soon, I still cannot for the life of me shake the feeling that it’s still too far away to matter.
I’m not alone. From all of the churches that would forgo something as trivial as the literal end of the world to talk about something that only feels like it in the name of relevance, to the world that is too quick to remind us that saying words like relevant already prove that we’re not it, to the people who make lots and lots of money standing in front of cameras and telling us what we really need to fear love and trust and above all things, it just sort of feels like there’s way more important stuff to talk about Jesus returning to judge the living and the dead. That’s not new either. Four years ago the right went on actual television convinced that President Obama would not abdicate his office and insist on a third term. The left wrote that there would be nuclear war under President Trump. It felt like the end of the world. Now it feels really quaint to think about while 2020 makes memes about having 2016 hold its beer for likes on social media. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter. It actually matters a lot. That’s why we always think it’s the end of the world. That, and we don’t actually know what the end of the world means anymore.
So we don’t really know what to say to each other other than to complain to each other about how much worse things are today than they were back in the day, look for signs to try to predict what our Lord has already told us is unpredictable, and then worry. But when you take all of the actual problems in the world and then mix in the idea that Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead but nobody can tell you when, aside from complaining it really only leaves us with two things to say to each other, and neither of them are particularly helpful. We can say I don’t know. I don’t know when the end will be. I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know when it will stop, but don’t be alarmed, for some reason. There’s a plan. God has a wonderful plan for your life. Everything happens for a reason. You just don’t get to know what it is, and it won’t hurt less even if you did, but try to find comfort in the fact that you have absolutely no control over your life and the God who keeps doing things that you hate. It’s not helpful.
Even worse, just wait. Keep watch. Stay awake. When everything falls apart, wait. On your worst week in recent memory, wait. When you are suffering and confused, when you were lost and alone, just wait. Someday you’ll go to heaven. Someday you’ll see the ones you’ve lost again. Someday it just won’t hurt so much to be here. But not today. Just wait. When it all gets to be too much, just wait. Stay awake. Keep watch. And absolutely don’t ask out loud who is late to his own wedding. It makes the church feel like the place that we get together once a week to give each other pep talks about pretending to be hopeful and joyful to impress God while simultaneously complaining about literally everything that we say He’s in control of.
But there’s a parable about wise virgins that has to be addressed. We figure we’ve got to be them. The ones who were prepared for darker days. Prepared to withstand absolutely anything. They had enough oil. We’ll make up some explanation as to what the oil must be. Then try to find it. Scrounge up enough of it to smile in the world this dark, which by the way is the real reason people listen to Christmas music. The thing is some, people hold out longer than others, but did you notice in the parable that oil or not, prepared or not, everyone falls asleep? The wise in the fools together. Sooner or later it just gets to be too much. Everyone falls asleep. Christians are not given superpowers to hurt less or carry more. Still, so many of us put on a brave face and try it anyway. I see us buy wholesale into that lie that we can and then collapse wondering why we fell when we should have stood. So much of it comes from looking at absolutely everything but the bridegroom himself.
We look at the tribulations of this world and fret. We look at the late hour of the day and worry. We look at the oil in the lamps and try and prepare. We look at absolutely everything but God and we miss the promise. He who loves you will be here. It’s not the foolish weren’t prepared. It’s that they left they chased after all those things that they thought would be the end of the world. All those things that they were sure they needed to address right this minute. They chased after the oil they thought they needed and weren’t there when the bridegroom came. He who doesn’t know them isn’t upset about a lack of oil. It’s that they weren’t there. Did you notice in the text it never actually says they found the oil? They went looking for it at midnight and they didn’t have Walmart back then. They were afraid of absolutely everything and by running off managed to fix absolutely nothing. They forgot the point of being here in the first place.
This is not where we go to give each other pep talks so that we will be ready. This is where we go to fall asleep. The bridegroom will be here. So we wait for Him and fall asleep in Christ. We sit here in the dark together and we wait for the end. We fall asleep watching the world decay and sing hymns while we do it and it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that the wise and foolish can fall asleep here together. It’s beautiful because there is nobody that was not invited to the wedding. Even the fools were invited. There is nobody that the Lord would not have here except those would be somewhere else. There is nobody that the Lord didn’t come into this world to redeem. He came for the wise and the fools alike. He came for those awake and asleep, that they would be caught up together in the clouds with the Lord in the air. Death has been so thoroughly defeated by our Lord that we would not be afraid of it anymore. We won’t stay dead. We’ll just fall asleep in Christ, because we know that we will wake up again. He came into this world to redeem us from our sins. Upon the cross, He has redeemed us from all foolishness. In the waters of baptism, He’s given us a new identity, not rooted in whether or not we are prepared, not in what we have done or said. He calls us His children and invites us to gather here unafraid to fall asleep in the darkest of days because Christ will come back to raise the living and the dead.
He will be here. We gather around that promise, spoken, sung, and even more. Delivered. Everyone falls asleep. Nobody can change that, but nobody has to. It stops being your job to fix every single plate that wobbles in this world. It stops being your job to predict the end. It stops being your job to do anything but wait here and sing because our Lord will be here with you. Some will wander off, chasing what they’re absolutely sure they need right now or else everything will fall apart. Keep singing what you know to be true. Who says the Good Shepherd will not bring them back before judgment day? Just be here so they can sing along with you when He drags them back in. Relax. The bridegroom was delayed but He actually did come. He has entered his world. Christ came into this world. He gave His life and rose again. And on that night that he was betrayed, he took bread and He broke it and begun His wedding feast that has no end. The world missed it. They were all pretty sure there was much more important stuff going on. But the wedding feast has already begun. He invites you to His table. He feeds you with His body and blood. You are invited now to know that you are not alone in this world waiting for someday. You wait with the Lord. God is here with you to forgive you your sins. To strengthen you in a promise that you will not be abandoned. That you will not be forsaken. To strengthen you to endure in this world until the last you can fall asleep in Christ knowing that you will wake up. The Holy Spirit is at work to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and even keep you in this faith until you are found ready to enter the fullness of His glory. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to worry about the end of the world because even now the feast is going on. You can face the darkest days in the certainty of the last one. The gift given to the church in this parable is not simply the command to wait, but the permission to rest. You can fall asleep here. Our Lord is coming and will grant the fullness of every promise. The resurrection of the body. The life everlasting, free from pain and evil suffering and death. But even here and even now, today, there is rest.