Sunday, November 12th, 2023

Be Ready to Wait

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Let us pray.  O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears, that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. About a year ago, last November, my family and I took a trip to Disney World with our dance studio from Houston. My girls had an opportunity to dance at Disney Springs and weren’t going to pass that up. It was a great trip overall, but our experience at Hollywood Studios is why I bring it up today. There are two things that happened the day we went to Hollywood Studios and I think that they’re applicable this morning, because it’s not actually two things, it’s actually two types of things that happened. One thing, two different experiences. The first happened right off the bat. We were supposed to meet up with another group of dancers, but they got on the bus ahead of us so we were a little behind them. By the time we got through the gates of the park they had already gone off to ride their first ride and so we were left with a choice. Do we wait at the end of the ride and join up with the group, or do we go in the line that wasn’t a line at all and start our own day. We chose to walk right on to Tower of Terror because there was no line there. We walked straight through the ropes and straight onto the ride, and straight off of that ride and straight on the Rockin Roller Coaster, and by the time we got off of that, they were long gone, and so the five of us and a good friend and her mom, a small group of seven decided to spend the day together. We decided it wasn’t worth waiting for the people to get off of their ride before we started our adventure for the day. By the time we finish those two rides, it was just the seven of us. We were ready to wait, but we didn’t have to, until later in the afternoon, of course. Well then we waited in line quite a long time for Flight of the Banshee. If you’ve ridden that, you know there’s a line there. The Star Wars arrived with all the stormtroopers waiting to greet. You waited in line a long time for that one. Even the Toy Story shooting gallery, waited in line to have our turn with that.  We were ready to wait, we knew we were going to wait because when you go to Disney, you wait in line, part of the experience. But I bring it up because something else happened, something that I think is important. We had to stop for a snack in the afternoon. We’d just gotten off a Smuggler’s Run. We filled up our popcorn buckets, we ordered ice cold sodas for all the kids, maybe an adult beverage or two for the grown-ups, we even got some ice cream and then we decided we would get in line for Mickey and Minnie ‘s Runaway Railway, which used to be the great movie ride. We were expecting it, to wait in line. So, we got into the ropes and realized there was no line. Apparently, the ride had malfunctioned earlier in the morning. They had shut it down, and so everyone went somewhere else, and we stumbled across it right as they reopened it. It was closed for so long that there was no line, and when we stepped in there was no one in front of us, so there we were walking our way through the ropes, thinking we had all kinds of time to finish our ice cream, and our drinks, when actually we were very quickly at the front door of the ride, where they won’t let you in with ice cream, and drinks. So there we were trying to eat the ice cream as fast as we could without getting a brain freeze, taking big sips of soda, trying to get rid of everything that we had spent an astronomical amount of money on, because we didn’t want to just throw it away. And I bring that up because throughout Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus points our attention to this exact thing. “Be ready,” He says. “Be ready for the coming of the Son.” But be ready in two ways. Be ready to wait, just like everyone who goes to Disney knows there’s going to be lines, you have to go to Disney ready to wait, so also be ready to wait for the Son of God, but also be ready not to wait. You might not have as much time as you thought. If we take Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and just put them together and look at the overall message that’s the news that Jesus has for us. It starts with the disciples and Jesus looking at the temple, and Jesus says “Do you see this magnificent temple? There will not be one stone left upon another. They will all be thrown down.” And the disciples asked, “ When will this happen? How will we know that these things will come to pass?” And Jesus takes two full chapters to answer their question. Now we skipped the first part of Jesus’ answer because we celebrated Reformation and All Saints, two noble feasts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done that, but we missed all of Matthew chapter 24. But now we’re going to be back in Matthew for the next three weeks until Advent starts. So, the disciples asked Jesus the question, “When will these things be, how will we know, what will be the sign of your coming, and Matthew devotes two full answers to Jesus’ question. First, Jesus points to the image of a woman in labor. He says, “She feels the contractions, she cries out in pain, she knows the baby’s coming, but it’s not here just yet.” And then Jesus says look at the trees, when you see the leaves change color and start to fall off the trees, you know that winter is coming, and when you see the buds appear on the barren branches, you know spring is around the corner.” So also, Jesus says, “When you feel the labor pains or see the buds on the branches, you know what’s coming next.” When you see wars in the world, when you hear rumors of wars, when there is tribulation on the earth, when there’s famines and earthquakes and floods and droughts, so also you should be smart enough to figure out that the end is near. You figured out the trees. Figure out the signs of the time. But Jesus gives intentionally vague signs, which means he basically gives no signs. What He basically says is “When you see the sun rise in the east and set in the West, you know that the end is near. And the implication is clear. Be ready. Don’t try to decode a whole bunch of signs. Be ready every day, all the time. That’s the basic point of the second part of his answer, also the part that today’s text comes from. This parable of the 10 virgins is very well known, but it’s actually a partner parable. It’s connected to the one that comes right before it, and even those two parables are all part of a larger answer that Jesus is giving, because first thing Jesus says is think about the days of Noah. People were just living their life, going to work, farming their fields, doing what they normally do, and then all of a sudden, they got caught in a flood. So also the Son of Man will come suddenly, without warning. It will be like two people standing in the field, and you turn around and one is gone suddenly, unexpectedly, and it continues to emphasize that so that people will be ready at all times. He says do you think that if the owner of the house had known at what time the thief was coming he would have let the thief in to steal his stuff of, course not. If the owner of the house knew what time the thief was coming he would have met him on the back porch with a shotgun. So also, you should be ready at all times. If you don’t know the thief is coming, you fall asleep. “Don’t fall asleep,” Jesus says. Then he tells this parable. Imagine a man with two servants. Both servants are set over the affairs of the household, while the man leaves for a long journey, a lengthy business deal. The master leaves, but one day into his journey, he’s met on the road by a messenger traveling the opposite direction. And this messenger tells the man that the person with whom he was to do business took ill suddenly, and died. So the deal was off, and the master turned around and went home, and when he returned home much earlier than expected he found one servant fulfilling the obligations, the responsibilities that he had been given by his master, and the other servant, no. He was abusing the staff, he was drunk on the master’s wine, he was lounging in the master’s bedroom wearing the master’s bathrobe. “What will the master of the house do to the second servant?” Jesus asks. The answer is obvious. “Will he not cast him out of the house?” Jesus says or maybe even something worse. “So also, you,” Jesus says, “Be ready for the return of the Messiah. You might not have as much time as you think.”

And He follows that up immediately with the parable we heard this morning. Now imagine 10 virgins, Jesus says, chosen to be the processional parade for the wedding march. They’ll be the ones who lead the procession into the banquet hall, dancing, spreading their excitement to the rest of the guests, as only young girls can do. Their joy and their excitement being contagious, they’re asked to participate, and they’re so thrilled to be part of the festivities. So, they grabbed their lamps and they rush out to wait for the bridegroom, but he’s not there, at least not yet. So, they wait, then wait, and wait. Eventually they just fall asleep. Excitement wears off and they drift off into dreamland, until they’re suddenly awakened by the cry “Here comes the groom” and they notice that all their lamps have burned out while they were sleeping, and it wouldn’t be much of a celebration parade without the lights, and so just think of a Christmas parade with no lights. They need to light their lamps, and so they light their lamps, but some of them realize that they’ve burned out all their oil. They’ve been asleep for so long all the oil has been burned up and so their lamps won’t light. Now five of them were prepared for this. They quickly refill their lamps with the extra oil they brought and they go join the groom. The five of them had not been prepared to wait. They had assumed they would be ushered straight into the banquet several hours earlier so they had no extra oil to refill their lamps; they had to go find more in the dead of night. When the groom arrived, they were nowhere to be found. So also, Jesus says, “Be ready for the delay, be ready to wait, might take longer than you think. Now next week, and the week after, we’ll look at the parts of Jesus’ answer to disciples that elaborate on what it means to wait, what we should be doing while we are waiting. But the emphasis of today’s parable, combined with the emphasis of the parable that comes right before it, combined right with the language of Noah’s flood, and trees, and labor pains, well it couldn’t be clearer. “Be ready.” Jesus says. “You have no excuse; you see the signs. Be ready for the return of the King. It might not take as long as you think, so be ready for the return of the King. But it also might take longer than expected, so be ready to wait.” And that, in a nutshell, might just be the biggest thing to take from today’s parable. Be ready to wait. And we could try to unpack all the significance of the different characters, why are there 10 virgins instead of 15, why are they virgins instead of men, why do they have lamps, why don’t they have oil, what’s the oil represent, why does the master say he doesn’t know them. Those are all good questions, and maybe when the text comes up again in three years, we’ll spend some time unpacking them, but for today I want to keep it simple. The message is clear. Be ready to wait, or if you prefer Jesus’ words to mine, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” So just be ready at all times. And those words, those aren’t just the closing to the parable of the 10 virgins, it’s also connected to the servants who came before it. Be ready. Watch therefore, so that you’re not caught unaware, either by the day coming sooner than you thought it would, or by having to wait longer than you thought you would. Just be ready. Which raises the obvious question, what does that mean? We’ll answer that question over the next few weeks. But for today, simply find comfort in this. You are ready, because you are a child of God. To be ready isn’t something you do to yourself or for yourself, just like being a saint of God is being made holy by Him, so also being ready for his return is a gift that He gives to you. He has made you ready in the gift of your baptism, you belong to him. When He comes for you, He is not coming in judgment, He is coming to take you into the wedding feast. He has made you ready by giving you His very body and blood to strengthen you both body and soul unto life everlasting, to sustain you throughout the days of your pilgrimage, just listen to the prayers we pray after communion. They all emphasized to us that we are ready for the waiting, because our Lord continues to sustain us in our waiting. He gives us faith, He nourishes that faith and He strengthens that faith, and He gives us His spirit to the proclamation of His Word, to bring us to repentance, and He proclaims to us your sin is forgiven, in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are ready for the day of His coming. He is coming, but you’re ready. He might come quickly, or you might have to wait, but when that day comes, He comes to take you home. He comes to take you to the celebration. So, we live not in fear of that day, but we live ready for it. May our merciful Lord sustain you and your gift of faith until the day He comes again to take you home. In Jesus’ name, Amen.