St. Matthew 25.1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5.4-6
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
This coming Advent, we will sing the following hymn. It echoes the Apostle Paul in our Epistle today:
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding! “Christ is near,” we hear it say. “Cast away the works of darkness, all you children of the day!” (LSB #345, stanza 1, public domain)
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief [in the night]. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thess. 5:4–6; ESV)
The children of the night and of the darkness are described as sleepy, and drunk. Susceptible to the thief in the night. Things that happen in the dark – typically we do not associate good things happening in the night.
When we fall asleep each night, we are at the same time turned off to the world and most vulnerable, unaware of what is happening. Sleeping obviously is not itself a sin, but the use of “sleep” here by Paul represents the negligence to pay attention to God's Word. One might say that the ten virgins in our Lord’s parable were unable to keep attending to the Word of His promise that the Bridegroom would indeed return. They fell asleep, unaware.
We are all guilty of that “sleepiness” towards God's Word – in our sinful condition, we all have been asleep to God and His Word, building upon the material things of this life, worrying and striving to the things temporal, following the flesh and opinions of our heart, turning a closed ear and eye to Holy Scripture.
Negligence to love and treasure God’s Word is to ultimately break the whole of the commandments, to place one’s self as one’s own god, and therefore, leads to the wages of sin that must be paid: another “sleep” – to fall asleep from this temporal life. Death.
This is another way we must describe what happened to the ten virgins waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. They could not stay awake one little millennium, or two, or more. They died. No sin in and of itself, to die, but certainly death is the wage sinners are to pay. Even those who die with the oil of faith in their lamp, even the wise, the children of light and day – dust you are, and to the dust you shall return, says God.
Getting drunk is a sinful vice, but the apostle uses the term with a much deeper significance than the vice of overindulging. "Drunkenness" in the Scriptures is used to describe a sign of God's wrath. Isaiah preaches:
Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Is. 51:17; ESV) (see also Job 21:10; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15, 27)
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as He approached His passion and suffering, Jesus prayed that the Father would take the cup of wrath from Him, if it were the Father’s will. Jesus was experiencing the terror of suffering God’s wrath in our place.
People who drink of God's cup of wrath stagger and stumble like they are drunk. So spiritual drunkenness is much worse than simply having two or three too many drinks. It is to be enslaved to sin and its effects, a foretaste of wrath and eternal slavery to sin. When the Apostle Paul says "let us keep awake and be sober", the word "sober" has the connotation of “right mindedness”, “exercising self-control and self-restraint”, to be free from excess, passion, rashness, confusion, to be well-balanced, to shun the bad fruits of our sinful condition. Those drinking the dregs of their sinful hearts and minds are not "sober".
Half of the ten virgins have not been sober, not of their right mind in their waiting for the Bridegroom. They didn’t care to bring enough oil where they knew they would need it. They had “peace and security” in their own delusions – I do not need to worry about the return of that Bridegroom, I do not really care about Him or when He may return.
When they are all awakened at the last, when the call comes for the Bridegroom’s arrival, the foolish virgins are still not of their right mind, they stagger, off balanced. They beg for oil from the others who cannot give it, who barely have enough for themselves. In a rash and confused decision, they leave at the last minute to go buy more oil, in the middle of the night, something that cannot be done.
It’s too late. They experience the wrath and judgment of the Bridegroom whom they had shunned and were apathetic towards: the door to His wedding is shut, He never knew them, and they are where they really chose to be – in the dark, children of the dark.
Children of the light, children of the day, stay awake and be sober! Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man will come. This is warning, and this is also encouragement.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thess. 5:8–10; ESV)
Or, in terms of our Lord’s parable: be the wise virgins, who have the oil of faith and love, which lights the lamp of God’s Word, which brightly signals to all the world the hope of salvation we have in the Bridegroom who comes for us. Children of the light, children of the day, are those who, despite their spiritual sleepiness in this life, look forward with full trust to being with Jesus in His everlasting wedding feast, where the light always shines brightly and beautifully, and all sloth and the woes of this world are banished.
How does one be a wise child of the light, a wise child of the day? Staying awake and being sober, being children of the day is not based upon our own ability to stay out of trouble. Nothing you can do will increase your love and longing for the Lord's appearing.
It has to be due to the fact that God Himself has set us free from His wrath against sin. By His innocent suffering and death, Jesus Christ drank the staggering cup of God's wrath down to the dregs in your place so that you might live eternally, and not be shut out of eternity with Him. By His act of love, you are given the strength to watch for the coming of the Lord in sobriety. All is a gift of the Holy Spirit, freely given. God has made you alive, awake, and sober in Jesus Christ, for He has brought you into the light and out of the darkness.
The preaching of the gospel, the anointing of Holy Baptism, the food for pilgrims of Christ’s own Body and Blood, these fill our lanterns with the oil of faith, keeping us alive together in Christ, whether we are awake or sleeping. The Lord, working through His means of grace, cleanses your conscience of guilt, turns you from dead works to serving the living God, (Heb. 9:1) and instills in you the anticipation of that crown of righteousness that Christ has promised, making us lovers of his appearing, (2 Tim. 4:8) who endure all things, even death to this life, because we know our Bridegroom is coming for us, with the bright light of His eternal day.
So, dear children of the day, lead baptismal lives of watching and waiting in holy patience and endurance, born of the gift of faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Shun and cast out the things of darkness in our lives, the things that cause us to sin – the love of material things, the lust for carnal pleasures, be they sexual perversity, gluttony, drunkenness, abuse of our body, abuse of our neighbors.
Instead of these, give your days of waiting patiently as children of the day over to God and His Word, be glad to hear it preached, taught, and to pray it with glad hearts in church and home. Thank the Lord for the blessing of His saving Word each day, for saving faith in Christ, and for the manifold blessings God bestows for life each day.
Give your days of waiting patiently for the Lord to return over to the joyful fulfillment of the daily vocations God gives you, seeing them as service to Christ Himself and blessings from Christ Himself. Pray that your neighbors will see that you find your comfort and joy in God’s Word, that they will see your good works in Christ and give glory to God the Father in heaven. Be awake and alert for service to the neighbor in need, sober and vigilant to love those around you unconditionally.
Stand up and eagerly join together with your fellow Christians and serve here in this congregation as you are able, when she needs her members to volunteer, serve on boards and committees, attend meetings that are called, pitch in and help out in all the activities and opportunities for service here that all enable the light of the Gospel to be preached in this place. Be vigilant to give as generously as possible for the support of our common effort to preach the life-giving Word of God here in this place. Be ready to share the hope you have at all times, patiently inviting and encouraging your neighbors, your family, your loved ones who are not here right now to find the light of Christ and His salvation here. Remember, after the new year, a new adult instruction class will begin – do you know someone who would be blessed by that class?
All of this is in full anticipation that today or tomorrow or the next you may fall asleep in Christ, or that He may return to raise the dead and bring His bride home. We know neither the day nor the hour when He will come again in glory. No matter what tomorrow brings, you have been given the full anticipation and joyful hope and comforting knowledge that God has not destined you for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you, rose again for you, ascended to the right hand of the Father for you, so that whether you are awake or asleep, you shall live with Him.
Therefore, dear children of the day, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +