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The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 25h chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, "Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, "No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, "Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
These last few weeks before Advent, we read passages from scripture that were written to people who were worried and anxious about what will happen at the end of the world. It is no accident that these readings come at a time when we in the northern hemisphere are experiencing fewer hours of daylight.
Here in Yakima, we have only had one week of being back on Pacific Standard time and already it seems like it’s still night when you get up in the morning and nighttime again before you leave work at the end of the day. If you aren’t near a window, you can feel like there’s no daylight at all.
The prophet Amos describes the experience of night: “as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.” Amos paints quite a picture for us. That’s terrifying enough to be a horror movie.
Our gospel reading is a parable that takes place in the night, specifically at midnight. The focus of this parable is an upcoming wedding feast.
In that time, however, they couldn’t send out written invitations with the exact date and time the way we do. They did plan for the wedding well in advance, though, and they had a fairly good idea which day the celebration would start. These parties were the event of the season and could last for a week.
So, when the time was near, the bridesmaids would go wait with the bride at her house. When everything was ready, the groom and his attendants would go to get the bride and bridesmaids and they would all walk to the groom’s house for the wedding.
This was all supposed to happen in the day time. But, for this wedding, the groom was late, midnight to be exact. It had been completely dark for 6 hours. There were no street lights in first century Palestine.
And as Amos tells us, nighttime is scary. Anxiety that seems manageable in the daylight is magnified by the night. The bridesmaids were asleep, but I bet that bride was lying awake wondering what happened to the groom. Who among us has not tossed and turned in bed at night, worried about things that seemed controllable during the day.
It is easy to come up with a list of things that keep us awake at night. There are those forces that seem to have lives of their own. St. Paul called them the principalities and powers. We call them the government, the economy, the health care system. We worry when they seem to be forces of night rather than the daylight.
When it’s nighttime we worry about all the “Will there be’s?” Will there be enough money to make the house payment? Will we be able to afford to send the kids to college? Will the church be able to meet the budget we are voting on next week?
Then we are anxious about the “What if’s?” What if I don’t pass this test? What if you lose your job? What if my relatives get deported? What if there is a problem with my health? What if the violence we hear about so often on the news comes close enough to touch us?
Night time is also the time when we grieve the most. We grieve the people and relationships we have lost. On this veterans weekend, we grieve the lost image of our nation, the memory of what it used to stand for. We grieve all those who died and were injured in wars.
Here at Central, we have been grieving all the losses we have had in our congregation, especially over the last few years. There have been many, many changes. Like most churches, we are smaller. We don’t have two pastors or two Sunday services anymore.
And, this morning, we thank Marcia for her faithful service as she moves into retirement. Next week at our annual dinner, we will honor Pastor Carol who is retiring at the end of the year. Even though this is a happy choice for each of them, we will still grieve the fact that we won’t see them as often as we do now, and our relationships will change.
All this can make us feel like the children in C. S. Lewis’s, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they first reach the magical country of Narnia, they aren’t prepared for the snow and cold. They are told that the white witch has cast a spell, so that it is always winter, and never Christmas.
We’ve all had times when we weren’t prepared, just like those bridesmaids who ran out of oil. But, we can’t really blame the ones who didn’t share with them. If each of the 5 had given away half of her oil, nobody would have had enough to make it to the groom’s house. They all would have been lost in the night somewhere on the road.
There are just some things that can’t be shared. For example, you can’t share the knowledge you need to pass a test, or drive a car. You can help your friend study or teach them to drive, but it would be cheating to give them the test answers, or even worse, just hand over your driver’s license.
We are in that time of year when we experience longer nights. We have had snow already and it is definitely time to get out the sweaters and coats. But, it isn’t night all the time. We still have several hours of daylight.
In those hours of daylight, we have signs of hope that the long nights won’t last forever. We remember the flowers from last spring and know that they will bloom again.
There are beginning signs of life and growth in our community and church, too. For the last two winters, we needed to shelter 10-20 men who were experiencing homelessness. Many of them have housing now and there is a more permanent shelter in our community for those who don’t have a home yet. We will have other opportunities to help our neighbors, but we don’t need to open a shelter this year.
Next week, our new youth choir will sing for worship. And several of our high schoolers are preparing to attend the National Youth Gathering. We are excited for them because we know that this will be life transforming experience, as well as a chance for them to help the people of Houston rebuild their community.
Next Sunday, our church will be blanketed in beautiful new quilts. We appreciate our “Piecemakers” who do God’s work with their hands.
This morning in our Sunday School time, we will hear from Pastor Alex Schmidt. He will tell us about an opportunity for us to more fully live out our mission as a church with arms wide open. We will learn ways to specifically welcome our siblings in Christ who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
Pastor Alex will talk to us about ways we can open our doors to people who have had been treated like the bridesmaids who were late for the wedding. People who have experienced church doors being shut in their faces while being told, “I don’t know you.” We will have the opportunity to look at the scriptures together and hear what Jesus tells us to do.
Even when it seems like the night is too long, we know we are not under the white witch’s spell where it’s always winter and never Christmas. Winter comes to us all, but we are the people who know how to celebrate Christmas.
Even the darkest midnight cannot over come the light of Christ. We are the people who know how to sing, “It came upon a midnight clear.” We know the story about the angels singing when Emmanuel, God with us, was born to our world.
There will be nighttimes in our lives, but Jesus is the bright morning star who brings the daylight. He shows us so many signs of His light in the world.
This morning, Christ comes to us, our bright morning star, and ushers in the daylight through his word and sacraments. He feeds us, forgives us, and sends us to open the doors wide to welcome everyone to his house. Amen.