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The Last Sunday in the Church Year
“Live as Children of Light!”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
Matthew 25.1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11
22 November 2020
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The darkness of this present age seems to grow deeper with each passing day, much like the diminishing daylight. This year 2020 has been a year most are eager to put in the rear view mirror, but there is much more than hanging up a new calendar on January 1. Our readings at the end of the church year have a twofold focus: the end of this present evil age and the dawn of the new heaven and earth, and the necessity of being prepared for it, for the glories of Christ’s kingdom which shall never end.
The Apostle Paul draws such a comparison when he pictures the dark as the time when evil reigns. In darkness lies contradict the truth. Many sins are committed in darkness so that others do not see them. The Christian is in this world but does not belong to it. In another context Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven [Phil. 3.20]. In Holy Baptism you were made a citizen of the kingdom of Light, the kingdom where Christ reigns unopposed forever. Earthly kingdoms will not last into eternity, not even our nation.
The Lord’s return will come suddenly. It will be a day of judgment for all. In both our Epistle and the Parable of the Ten Virgins light and darkness are contrasted. In darkness the Ten Virgins await the Bridegroom’s sudden return. In our Epistle Christians likewise await this sudden return of Christ at night. Christians are waiting people. The advent of the Bridegroom is certain in both cases. In the three ecumenical creeds of the Church we confess Christ’s return in judgment on the last day. It comprises part of our daily confession of the faith. Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, yet most people have no fear of God’s judgment. Many have rejected God in unbelief, and still others live as though all of this is a mere fable.
It often seems that the darkness is overwhelming us. In our nation we seldom experience total darkness even at night. We have night lights in our homes and street lights in our cities. We have flashlights and lanterns if the power goes off or a powered generator to keep our appliances running. Without these things we would experience deeper darkness. We stumble around even in familiar settings.
The parable of the Ten Virgins admonishes us to be ready. Only five were ready, while the other five were not prepared to wait. Jesus admonishes us to “Watch” because we do not know the time of his return. It is not the sleeping that is the problem because all ten virgins slept. The problem is preparedness. In the epistle the danger is also lack of preparedness, which entangles us in the works of darkness.
The Christian lives by a different standard than the rest of the world. Those who live in darkness think that they can get away with their evil deeds if no one sees them. They don’t think they’ll get caught. Many presume that if there is a judgment they will have ample time to fix what is wrong, but that is dead wrong. The destruction of this age will come suddenly, so suddenly that Jesus says it will be like the lightning which flashes from the east to the west [Matthew 24.27]. You can’t out run God’s judgment! That day will come like a thief in the night, quietly, secretly, suddenly. No human being will know its coming. On that day all the works of all mankind will be laid bare and all will see the sin that has been committed, as the Psalmist reminds us:
“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” [Psalm 90.8]
All the evil of the world will be exposed, including yours and mine.
But you have been called out of spiritual darkness into the light of Christ. At times that light may be only the flickering candle of the five prepared virgins, but such a tiny light can been seen for miles on a totally dark night.
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief,” Paul writes.
Like the five wise virgins you have light within you. Much of this is rehearsed in the Great Vigil of Easter when we enter the sanctuary and take the light from the Paschal Candle, which is lit for all baptisms, and the pastor chants, “The Light of Christ” three times as we fill the sanctuary. Each time the congregation chants in response, “Thanks be to God!”
The Psalmist writes,
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. [Psalm 36.9] Mankind stumbles around in the absolute darkness of his sin. He cannot see the light until God’s light shines on him. We do not create the light. ” . . God is Light and in him is no darkness at all.” [1 John 1.5] We confess of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Nicene Creed that he is God of God, Light of Light. Light comes from God. He illumines us.
Martin Franzmann’s mighty hymn Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness [LSB 578] says it so powerfully:
1. Thy strong word did cleave the darkness; 2. Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
At thy speaking it was done. Dark as night and deep as death,
For created light we thank thee, Broke the light of thy salvation,
While thine ordered seasons run. Breathed thine own life-giving breath.
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send! Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end! Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!
If we are in Christ then we are of the Light, just as Paul exhorts. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. [1 Thess. 5.5] Our Lord and the Apostle encourage you to live as children of Light. They urge you: Be what you are!
To watch and be ready for the return of the Bridegroom implies that we cast off the works of darkness as one takes off dirty clothing. This, my friends, speaks of repentance. It speaks of Baptism. To repent is to put off the sins that bind us. We live in the light of Christ, so the works of darkness must be cast off! [Romans 13.12]
Paul has his “sin catalog” in many of his letters. In Romans [13.13] he lists orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy. In Galatians he expands the list to include idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and things like these. [Gal. 5.16-24] (See also Eph. 4.25-29; Col. 3.5-9.) In nearly all of his letters to the saints Paul emphasizes this, very often near the end as a serious exhortation, an entreaty, a plea, to repent of the sins of darkness so that one is not dragged back into eternal death. It is a parting word which we should not forget.
So, too, at the end of this church year you hear again the plea to live as the children of light that you are. Watch and be ready! Repent of your sin. Return to the cleansing waters of your Baptism. Live according to the Word of Christ. Put on the full armor of God, with the breastplate of faith and love. [1 Thess. 5.8]. Be ready to fight against the onslaught of Satan, the world, and your own sinful flesh. Do not grow weary! Do not fall into the deadly sleep of complacency and presumption!
The eternal wedding feast will come soon and it will come suddenly. Watch! Be ready! Be awake spiritually, doing the good works Christ has planned in his mercy for you to do. [Eph. 2.8-10] Continue to hear his Word faithfully. Receive the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body and blood often for the forgiveness of your sins. Pray for your fellow saints. Let your light shine in this darkening world, so that when the call goes out to meet the heavenly Bridegroom you will be ready with your lamps burning brightly! And then you will be like the five wise virgins pictured in our bulletin icon enjoying the marriage feast of the Lamb, singing everlasting songs of praise!
5. Give us lips to sing thy glory, 6. God the Father, light-creator,
Tongues thy mercy to proclaim, To thee laud and honor be.
Throats that shout the hope that fills us, To thee, Light of Light begotten,
Mouths to speak thy holy name. Praise be sung eternally.
Alleluia, alleluia! Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
May the light which thou dost send Glory, glory be to thee.
Fill our songs with alleluias, Mortals, angels, now and ever
Alleluias without end! Praise the holy Trinity!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.