What Matters on New Year's Eve?
The Last Sunday of the Church Year is the Church's New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve is a time to reflect on the past and to look at what's coming. The difference between the world's and the church's New Year's Eve is ours is on the eve of not a New Year but a New Day. Ours is the eve of Judgment Day. In our text, Jesus shows us what matters on our New Year's Eve.
What matters is if I'm in the Church, not politics, not the economy, not health. When Judgment Day dawns tomorrow, you won't be thinking about who got elected president, how your stocks are doing, or what your prognosis is. Your only concern will be am I in the Church or not?
In this parable all 10 virgins are in the Church. They're betrothed to one Groom. They're not in the adultery of idolatry. This parable is not about the ungodly, the unbelieving, or hypocrites: people who know they don't believe but act like they do. No, this parable is about people in the Church, who want to be in the Church, who think they're ready for Judgment Day. That's what makes this parable so scary.
All 10 virgins wait for their Lord. All have oil in their lamps. The oil is not faith as some teach; the oil is not works as others teach. The oil is the Spirit. Oil is the standing symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. It's a visible indication that someone has been given the Spirit. All in the Church have the Spirit. The Spirit is given to them in the Means of Grace. God's Word joins the Spirit to the Waters of Baptism, to the Words of pastors, and to the Bread and Wine of Communion.
All 10 are in the Church because all have the Spirit, and then all die. That's the sleeping part. Jesus and Paul call death sleep. The point here is that all 10 die thinking they are ready to meet their Lord. All die thinking they have the Spirit to face Judgment Day. All fall asleep on their deathbed ready to meet their Maker, some are in for a rude awakening, and that is what makes this parable so scary.
On this New Year's Eve as you ponder all that was, all that might have been, and all that surely will be when your Lord returns for you 50 years, 5 days, or 5 hours from now what matters is, "Am I in the Church?" And second, "How will I fair in the judgment?"
All 10 go into the sleep of death spotless, pure, holy virgins before men. All have the Spirit of life in their lamps. All sincerely believe they are ready and before men they are. No one man can say these 5 aren't ready because they look just like the other 5. The difference doesn't show till the Lord returns for them. Waking them can be picturing the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day or it could just be a figurative way of expressing coming into the Lord's judgment. Either way, it's only when the Lord returns for them or wakes them, that some are shown not to have the Spirit. Before men all did, but in the presence of the Lord some of the lamps go out.
The Spirit is given only in the Means of Grace, and you think you have plenty of Him, so much so that you stay away from the Means of Grace. What's the big deal if you miss a Sunday or two? I got the Spirit. What's the big deal if I spurn the teaching of the Word where the Spirit is poured out in Bible classes and Midweek Services? I've got plenty of Spirit in my Baptism, plenty of Spirit in Communion. Sure you do. You're all prepared. Sleep on my pretty. Die in the faith that you have so much of the Spirit that you can afford to pass when He is offered to you. Continue to prepare as you always have even though your God ordained pastor is warning you to think again, to reconsider the choices you're making.
Perhaps it's time to reconsider not reconsidering. Come midnight it's too late. Everyone knows New Year's Eve ends at midnight. When you're Lord returns for you, it's too late to get more Spirit. Neither can you get the Spirit from just anyone. All of you who think you're getting the Spirit when you get that peaceful, easy feeling from your friends, your hobbies, your family, or your works are fooling yourself. All of you who think you can share the Spirit that someone else has your wise spouse, pious mother, faithful sibling - are foolish virgins.
I'm telling you this on New Year's Eve, but I fear it's to no avail. I noticed in the Army as a chaplain how people who didn't sense imminent danger paid no attention to warnings. Each year I gave a mobilization briefing on what soldiers needed to have ready in case they were suddenly deployed. That hadn't happened for decades, so they sat there bored. They didn't get their papers in order. They didn't have plans for their family, for paying bills, for being gone. All that changed in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Then they sat on the edge of their seats listening. But it was too late within days they were gone.
Now is the time to get the Spirit and you must get Him from those appointed to distribute Him. You can't get oil from merchants of meat, vegetables, or dried goods. I've been called here to be the Spirit merchant. Every Sunday I'm here pouring the Spirit out in Words, Water, Bread and Wine. Most Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings I'm here filling lamps. During Advent and Lent I'm here distributing oil in midweek services.
"Go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves," Jesus says. Yes, getting the Spirit costs you. It costs you your pride, your priorities, and probably your world view. You'll have to admit that you've been a foolish virgin. You'll have to admit you put more priority on being ready for work than for Judgment Day. You'll have to repent of neglecting the Word. Getting the Spirit will cost you, but it cost you nothing compared to what it cost Jesus.
On the cross is where Jesus gave up His Spirit. He didn't just "breath His last," He, "Yielded up His Spirit," says Matthew, and then after rising, He poured out His Spirit on His disciples. He commanded Baptism as a way to give the Spirit. He breathed on the apostles and said, "Receive the Spirit whoever's sins you forgive they are forgiven." And Jesus says His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood "are Spirit and they are life."
Jesus won the Spirit to give Him to you. As God the Son, He couldn't be given the Spirit anymore than God the Father or God the Spirit could. As True Man, He was given the Spirit and He was given it for you. Being a sinless man, the Holy Spirit was able to land on Him in Baptism. The Holy Spirit didn't depart from Him because He never sinned in life. Where you always do things that grieve the Holy Spirit, He never did. Yet, still Jesus went to the cross where He was tortured, bled, whipped, pieced, and speared for your despising of the Means of Grace, for your neglect of His Word, for your grieving of the Sprit. And after finishing the suffering you should go through, Jesus gave up His Spirit so it could be poured back on all flesh.
In Baptism there is no one so dead in their sins that the Spirit doesn't regenerate them in Jesus' name. In Absolution, there is no sin that the Spirit doesn't send away in Jesus' name. In Communion, there is no sinner that Jesus doesn't gladly share His Body and Blood with in the Spirit of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
What matters on New Year's Eve is if you're in the Church, how you will fair on the next day which is Judgment Day, and what side of the door you're on. Jesus tells this parable to you today, so you can answer now. At death it will be too late. The Judge will show you exactly what side of the door you're on, and there is no changing sides then. If you really don't know now, come to me. I can and will tell you.
The foolish virgins were on the wrong side of the door. O they thought they were on the right side. They were confident they were. They went to their graves confident they would wake up inside the wedding feast. Perhaps some pastor told them as long as they felt they had the Spirit they would be saved. Perhaps they thought Spirit-worked faith was just knowing the facts of salvation, and they knew all that, so obviously they had the Sprit. What they certainly did think is that if they cried "Lord, Lord," Jesus would open the door to them.
They were fools. What they had was just enough of the Spirit to get by before men. Hey, they were on a church roll; they did go to churchwhen they felt like it. They got as much of the Spirit as they felt they needed, and we're they surprised when the door was shut in their faceforever. That's what makes this parable so scary.
That shut door is none other than Jesus who declared He is the Door. Thanks be to God the Door is not shut yet. That Door is flung wide open to anyone coming that is weak and heavy laden. This is the Door opened to tax collectors and prostitutes. This is the Door opened to Aaron even though he was guilty of idolatry. This is the Door opened to David, the adulterer and murderer. This is the Door opened to Peter guilty of denying the Lord. This is the Door still open to you. There is no soul living that the Spirit can't bring through the open door by repentance and forgiveness of their sins.
Once you die; that's it. The Door is either shut or open to you and no man can either close it or open it again. But you're not dead yet; the Door remains open to you. The Spirit of grace, truth, life, hope, peace, joy is here for you. Going to your Baptism each day to die and rise with Jesus, you have His Spirit. Seeing your sins sent away from you in the Absolution is something only the Spirit can show you. Eating this Body and drinking this Blood, you get not just Jesus but His Spirit and you get not just forgiveness, not just life, but salvation. In, with, and under these means of grace, you're on the right side of the Door.
What matters on New Year's Eve? The same things that really matter every other eve, morning, and day of your life. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20081123); Matthew 25: 1-13