Creekside Church
Sermon of December 1, 2019

"Now and Then"
Matthew 25:1-10

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning and happy New Year! As I noted last Sunday, the Christian year begins with the first Sunday of Advent: Advent means “coming” in Latin, and the four Sunday immediately prior to Christmas are the Sundays when we focus on preparing for the coming of Christ. I don’t know about you, but last night, November 30 was pretty tame as far as new year’s eve celebrations go, but it is pretty great to come to Creekside this morning and see how our Gathering Area and Worship Center have been transformed from harvest to Christmas. I hope you’ll take a chance to thank Maryann Zerbe for all her planning, members of Worship Team for an entire afternoon of setting up, and Ted Foland for being willing to climb an extension ladder, repeatedly, to set these lights in place.

Our theme for the four Sundays of Advent is Ready. This theme sums up in a single word what December feels like for many of us: planning and preparation to get ready for Christmas: actually, at this point in the season it may be better summed up with two words: Not Ready. For this year of the lectionary cycle, our gospel texts are from Matthew, and Matthew is all about telling the Jewish people to get ready. But of course, it isn’t Christmas they’re being told to get ready for. Our text this morning from Matthew 25 is a parable that Jesus told to encourage his disciples and other listeners to be ready. It wouldn’t make any sense to tell them to get ready for his birth; he was right there with them. It would be a couple hundred years until the church started to celebrate Jesus birth.

So what were Jesus’ followers supposed to be getting ready for? The coming of the kingdom of God. And this is a little trickier to explain, a little less tangible than the birth of a baby: although the two are so tied together that they’re inseparable. That’s why Jesus teaches about the kingdom in not one, but a series of parables, or stories. This morning we’re focusing on the parable in Matthew 25:1-10 about bridesmaids and lamps, but it is followed by a parable about a master who leaves three servants in charge of his money, and a crazy scene where people are separated like sheep and goats, depending on how they treated those in need. These are all stories which illustrate how we are to get ready for the kingdom of God, and none of them have anything to do with presents or decorations or food.

What the parable of the bridesmaids and their lamps is suggesting that there is something we need before we even start to get ready. The bridesmaids are waiting to greet the newly married groom and his bride and take them into the wedding banquet, but either the service went way too long or they took hours taking photographs afterward, because the bride and groom are late. Really late. It’s been dark for hours, and half of the bridesmaids waiting to be part of wedding party are running out of oil to keep their lamps burning. They ask the other five, who planned ahead and brought extra oil if they can borrow some, and those ladies say, “Nope, there’s not enough for all of us -- you’ll have to go out and buy your own.” So five of them leave to go to the oil dealers, and while they’re gone, the bridegroom comes, and the five bridesmaids who weren’t prepared are shut out of the wedding banquet.

And Jesus clarifies at the end of the parable what it is that we need to be sure that we have to prepare for the kingdom of God -- and I’ll give you hint: it isn’t oil. (That was just a metaphor) It isn’t oil: it’s awareness. Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know the day or the hour.” And even being awake is metaphor for changing from one state of consciousness to another.

Most of us negotiate going from being asleep to waking up and back again at least daily: maybe more if we’ve just eaten a big turkey dinner and are watching football. If you’re under the age of three, you might put up a fuss before you take a nap in the afternoon or go to sleep in the evening, but for most of us, it’s a pretty routine part of the day. This isn’t the kind of being asleep Jesus is warning his disciples about. Jesus is suggesting another kind of awareness: a level of awareness and which can hold the tension between what is and what might be. None of us can see the future, but we anticipate it and prepare for it all the time: we save money for college or for retirement, we buy insurance in case something happens to our home or our automobile, we take medicine or change our diet or both so that we can stay healthy or avoid a heart attack or high blood pressure. In order to manage the tension between now and then, we have to hold an awareness of both, and make decisions based on the present and the future: How much money do I need now and how much can I save for later? What if I spend it all on Christmas presents now and then the brakes go out on the car and I can’t get to work?

Jesus’ listeners couldn’t have imagined that 21st century scenario, but Jesus gave them an illustration that they could relate to: the five foolish bridesmaids who took just what they needed for right now and ended up missing the wedding banquet, and the five wise bridesmaids who were aware enough to plan ahead and were ready when the bride and groom arrived. There are all kinds of illustrations of how a difference in perception changes our circumstances: The difference between lost and found is not about where you actually are, it’s about getting from where you are to where you want to be: do you know how to do that or not? That’s the difference between lost and found.

I believe that meaningful preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God -- or anything else -- begins with a clear-eyed assessment of where we are. Clearly there is work to be done. If we believe that God’s will is for people to know Jesus Christ, to follow him, to have economic opportunity, to be loved and valued, and for all people to be treated with justice and respect as children of God -- well, then we have a ways to go. If we decide to stay inside our nice warm church and not be aware of the needs around us, then we are in effect saying that we’d rather just sleep; we won’t even try to get ready for the bridegroom: let him welcome himself and get his own dinner; we won’t even show up.

Only if we are brave enough and aware enough to face the world as it is now, will we be able to prepare for what we hope and pray it will be someday. The bridesmaids couldn’t make the bridegroom get there -- they didn’t know the hour or even what day that would happen, but the wise ones took enough oil to be ready, and stayed awake so that their light would be burning to light the way. They knew what they needed to do now in order to be ready for whatever might happen then. Any vision we have for the future must include an awareness of the challenges and the resources we have now, a goal for where we want to be, and a plan for how we get from now to then. This is true for an individual, a family, or a church. Ron Nicodemus wrote a great piece in the December Connection about the importance of vision: in order to make any vision a reality, we have to figure out how much oil we need and where we’re going to get it.

Through the next four weeks of Advent, I’m going to be talking about moving from one state to another: asleep to awake is just one of them. Perhaps the most profound change is the one which is most closely associated with Christmas and the birth of Jesus, so I want to share it for your reflection in the coming weeks: it is the change from not being pregnant to being pregnant. Even if you have not given birth to another human being, I hope you can relate to what I’m talking about: anyone who has given birth to an idea or a project or a vision can understand what I mean. There is a starting point and usually some discomfort as our awareness changes to encompass this new thing; there is anticipation and maybe some dread about what the future might look like and how my life might change; there is lots and lots of hoping and dreaming and planning for what we need and what could happen and what we can do to help it go as well as possible. There are times when we are overwhelmed by the enormity of what we’re doing, and we have to go on faith that it will all work out. We aren’t in control of the process, but we try to do whatever we can to get ready.

That, sisters and brothers, is the work of Advent. We are a people waiting for the coming of Jesus: of course we are preparing for Christmas and the celebration of his birth in Bethlehem, but we are also called to prepare for the kingdom of God, the coming of Christ the Messiah and King. Jesus told his disciples to keep awake! We are those disciples who are still called today. We are called to see what the world is now, to imagine what God’s kingdom will be in the future, and to make plans for what we can do to get from here to there. We do not make God’s kingdom come -- only God can do that -- but we must keep our lamps burning, our oil filled, our batteries charged, so that we can light the way.

God bless you as walk together in the present and prepare for God’s future. We’re getting ready for something new to be born in us. Keep awake! Amen.


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