When your Lord Jesus Christ admonishes you to be alert, as He does this morning, He does not call you to the frantic non-stop drivenness and sleepless exhaustion to which your fallen flesh is prone in pursuing your own self-chosen ambitions. He calls you, rather, to watch and wait upon Him, to live and to work in daily repentance, in the constancy of faith, and in love for God and man.
To be alert to the coming of your Lord does not mean pulling constant all-nighters, but doing your duty at the proper time, and being ready and prepared to do your duty when you are called upon.
It means a faithful stewardship of what the Lord your God has entrusted to you — a responsible use of your time, treasures, and talents — so that you are able to do what He has given you to do.
It means living by His grace in the confidence of His promises. Not working all the time and never resting, as though to make a life for yourself, but living by faith in the Gospel and according to the Word of God within your own office and station. It means working faithfully in obedience and love, but so also resting in the Sabbath Peace of Jesus Christ, your Savior and Redeemer.
It is in this way, that is, by living and working in faith and love, that you let your light so shine before your neighbors in the world, so that all may see your good works — and hear your good confession of Christ Jesus — to the praise and glory of the Bridegroom and His Father.
It is your duty to do so, as a member of the Bridal Party, clothed in the royal wedding garments of Holy Baptism. You are called to meet and greet the Bridegroom whenever He shall come to lead home His Bride, the Church, and to accompany the Bride and Groom into the Wedding Feast.
The lamp that you take with you — with which you confess, and honor, and glorify, and worship the Bridegroom — that is your body and life in the world, your mouth and hands and feet, your words and actions. Thus do you welcome Him, and you call others to follow Him into the Feast, by the good works of your calling, with whatever skills and opportunities the Lord provides you.
But, now, do not neglect to take along the oil for your lamp! For your body and life, your words and your actions, are not able to burn brightly or to give any light without the necessary oil.
That oil which you need, by which you live and your lamp burns, is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, His forgiveness of your sins, His free gift of life and salvation, and His anointing with the Holy Spirit — such as Guinevere received in her Holy Baptism two weeks ago, and of which Benjamin and Julianne were reminded in the Confirmation of their Baptism last week. You receive and bear that oil of Christ and His Spirit in your body and life by the way of faith in His means of grace, that is, by the hearing of His Word; by the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood in His Supper at His Table; and by living to and from the Liturgy of His Gospel throughout your life on earth.
Go, then, to the dealers to get that precious oil. Do not delay or put it off, but do it now while you have the opportunity. Avail yourself of the Gospel. Go to church. Give attention to the preaching of Christ. Remember and return to the significance of your Baptism in His Name. Repent of your sins and seek out His spoken Word of Holy Absolution. And partake of His Supper often in faith and with thanksgiving. Not as though the Gospel were a commodity for sale, but as Christ Jesus freely gives His good gifts through the ministry of those whom He sends in His Name and stead.
True wisdom, therefore, which begins and continues in the fear of the Lord, proceeds in faith, with oil for your lamp, by receiving and relying on the Ministry of the Gospel. By contrast, it is utter foolishness to rely on your lamp apart from the flask of oil, that is to say, apart from faith in the Gospel. Indeed, there is no true or saving faith apart from the hearing and receiving of the Gospel.
But whether with or without the necessary oil, both the wise and the foolish get drowsy and fall asleep as they await the coming of the Bridegroom. And you also will grow drowsy and sleep, if He is yet delayed for long. Your body will grow weary and wear out; your life on earth will end.
Even now in the meantime, there is both working and resting, as there is both life and death, for you and for all people. That is the rhythm of the body and life that you are given here and now. But the character, content, and consequences of your working and resting, your dying and your living, all hinge and depend on whether or not you have the oil that you need for your lamp.
Those who live and work by faith in Christ shall fall asleep in Christ Jesus; and they shall rise, in and with their bodies, to live with Him in the Feast of His Kingdom forever and ever. Amen. But those who live and work apart from Christ, that is, without His Gospel, they shall “fall asleep” and die apart from Him. They, too, shall be raised up at the last, only not for eternal life with Christ in His Kingdom, but for condemnation and eternal death in body and soul, outside of His Feast.
So, again, being alert, watching and waiting on the Lord, is not a matter of keeping yourself awake and working 24/7, day in, day out, all year long. It is to live by faith in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Which is to work at the tasks your Father has assigned to you by day; and at night you lie down to sleep in the bed that your Father has provided for both your body and your soul in Christ. For when you sleep in that bed, in the Sabbath Rest of Christ, within your Father’s house, not only are you safe and sound and at peace, but you are right where you belong. You are ready and waiting.
But if you sneak out of your Father’s house, whether to party till you drop or to burn the midnight oil working, then, even while you manage to keep yourself awake and always going, going, going, you are not alert and attentive to the Lord; you’re not awake to His call or ready to do your duty.
In any event, whenever the Bridegroom comes in glory to lead home His Bride, the Church, then, wherever you are, and whether or not you are ready, you will be woken up.
And those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, who have died in the faith, shall awake and arise, well prepared to meet Him, their bodies and lives well supplied and brightly burning with His Gospel.
But at this point in the Lord’s Parable, there is a troubling and challenging scenario, which may be confusing and difficult to understand. Clearly, when the Bridegroom comes in all His glory for the final Judgment, on that great and final day when all the dead shall be raised from the dust of the earth, it will be too late at that point to repent or to seek out the Gospel any longer.
Yet, the Parable describes a passage of time between the summons to rise and the actual coming of the Bridegroom; and when the foolish ask the wise for help, for a share in their oil, the wise decline that request and send the foolish to the dealers instead.
It is important that you not attempt to press the chronology of the Parable too sharply, and that you not misinterpret the actions and the counsel of the wise. For the Lord has told His Parable in the here and now, while there is still time for repentance, and while His Gospel is still being preached throughout the world. He has given this Parable here and now, as a warning and an admonition to you and to all, to seek out the Ministry of the Gospel and to receive it while it may be found.
Take His Word to heart, therefore, and heed it faithfully. Seek out and cling to His Gospel.
It is precisely in this respect that the wise tell those who have been foolish to go to the dealers, to the ministers of the Gospel of Christ, to get the oil they need. It is meet and right so to do.
To be sure, it belongs to the duty of each and every Christian — and so it is your duty, also, as a Christian — to share the Gospel with your neighbors within your own proper station in life. But your faith in the Gospel, the oil in your lamp, cannot save anyone else. It is rather that you speak to your neighbor and pray for your neighbor, in faith, that he would repent and believe the Gospel. For no one shall be saved without such personal repentance and faith. Neither you nor any other Christian can believe and be saved for anyone else, no matter how desperately you wish it.
Therefore, be on the alert! Live and work by faith in the Gospel; not abstractly, but concretely, by faith in preaching and the Sacrament, by faith in the Divine Service. Hear and heed the Word of Christ Jesus. Seek Him while He may be found, and so live by His grace and mercy in His peace.
Notice, too, that both the wise and the foolish are in groups. They are not isolated individuals. There is a community of wisdom, and a community of foolishness. It is a fact: The crowd that you follow and hang out with has a great deal to do with your wisdom, or with your lack thereof.
Bring yourself to and place yourself within the company of the wise. Belong to the community of true and abiding wisdom, to the Holy Communion of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. After all, you are called to be a member of His Bridal Party; you are called to await the coming of the Bridegroom in the company of His Holy Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
If you would enter the Feast of the Bridegroom in His Kingdom, then dwell in the courts of the Lord’s House here within His Church on earth. For here it is that you find your true house and home, your safety, peace, and rest, which God the Father has provided for you in Christ, His Son.
Abiding as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church, you have peace and rest even while you are awake and working hard. And by the same token, you are alert and ready for the Advent of your Lord, by faith in His Gospel, even when you are sleeping in this body and life on earth.
In the way that you approach and receive the Lord’s Day now, so do you await and so shall you receive the Day of the Lord at His appearing. And in the same way that you approach and receive the Lord’s Supper here and now within His Church on earth, so do you anticipate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, of which the Sacrament of the Altar is a blessed Foretaste.
Therefore, with bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom who is near. For here, indeed, we enter all the wedding hall to eat the Supper at His call. And joining with the choir immortal, with saints and angels and archangels, with all the host of heaven, we gather round the Lamb upon His Throne, to receive and to adore Christ Jesus at the heart and center of all things.
He is the One who calls you to Himself in love, who comes to you in love both now and forever.
It is His Lamp, His Body and Life, which burn so brightly with His perfect Faith and holy Love, with His Justice and Righteousness and Holiness, all of which enlighten you and light your way.
As He was well-prepared and ready when His Father called, and as He perfectly fulfilled His duty when that Day and that Hour came upon Him, so do His Word and Holy Spirit fill you and clothe you, within and without, with His Wisdom and His Peace.
His justice rolls down like water, His righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, cleansing your heart and mind, your body and soul, and quenching your deepest thirst: as in your Holy Baptism, so also in His Chalice, the New Testament in His Blood, poured out for you and your forgiveness.
And so it is that, just as you are given your Sabbath Rest in Christ Jesus here at His Altar, so shall you fall asleep in the same Lord Jesus Christ, each night in your bed at the end of every day, and so also at the end of your life on earth. So shall you also be awakened and raised up in Him, to live with Him in His Kingdom, glorified in body and soul, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever. That is why, dear Christian, you fear the grave as little as your own bed.
The truth of the matter is, that you are not simply a member of the Bridal Party with duties to fulfill and responsibilities to the Bride and Groom, but the dear Lord Jesus comes to you and calls you to be His Bride, to be united with Him in body and soul, to be one flesh and one blood with Him.
He comes to woo you to Himself in grace, mercy, and peace. He comes in love and gathers you to Himself, that He might bring you home. In His strong arms, He embraces you, and He carries you over the threshold into His own house, wherein you share His life and all that is His, and you celebrate the Wedding Feast with Him, your heavenly Bridegroom, forever and forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.