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The Parable of the Bridesmaids (Matt 25:1-13)

If you have ever been a guest at a wedding you will know that they often involve a lot of waiting around. Everyone waits for the bride to arrive at the beginning, of course, then waits for the signing of the register, then waits for the photographer to finish his/her shots, then waits for the reception to begin, then waits for the speeches to start before finally waiting for the honeymooning couple to depart. (A friend of mine boasted once that during the long breaks in one wedding day he even had enough time to go for a swim, go shopping and then write an essay – and he was the vicar!)

And it’s not just modern weddings that involve a lot of waiting around – today’s 2,000 year old wedding story from Jesus also centres around waiting. In his parable Jesus describes the preparations for a wedding banquet.

Ten bridesmaids are waiting to welcome the bridegroom to his wedding feast. They all expect to be at the party – no doubt they are all dressed-up for the occasion – and they have torches ready to light when the groom arrives. Verse 5 tells us that the groom took his time, and all ten bridesmaids took the opportunity for a bit of a snooze. But suddenly, at midnight, the groom does appear. Five of the bridesmaids then face a nasty surprise. Foolishly, they had decided not to bring enough oil for their torches, and the five other bridesmaids don’t have enough spare oil to share with them.

The foolish bridesmaids are forced to go and buy extra oil elsewhere, and by the time they return the groom’s procession is over, the party has already begun and the venue door has been firmly closed. They are distraught to discover that there is no way for them to get in – gatecrashers are forbidden.

Of course Jesus didn’t tell this story merely to entertain. He told this parable to teach us about his Parousia, his return. You see, the bridegroom in this parable represents Christ himself. And the Marriage Feast he hosts is the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s glorious new creation – the ultimate wedding reception venue!

This parable is perfect for Advent Sunday, the day when we remember that Jesus will one day return to earth, just like the groom arrived at his wedding feast. But our passage also reminds us that Christ is delaying his return for a reason, and it urges us to be ready and waiting when our time comes to meet him. Let’s look at these in turn…

Christ is coming back!

Christmas is just around the corner, only a few weeks away. It looks like coronavirus restrictions are going to be specially relaxed so we can celebrate Christ’s first coming with family and friends this year.

We all know that Christ’s first coming was humble and modest, in an animal’s manger in an insignificant corner of a small country. But Advent Sunday is a reminder that Christ second coming will be both global and glorious.

Just like the groom in verse 6 of our passage, Jesus will suddenly return one day in power and splendour. And on his return he will divide people into two groups. Like the bridesmaids in our parable, one group will wonderfully experience delight and joy – while the other will, tragically, face the Lord’s condemnation and rejection.

Like the foolish bridesmaids in verse 11 of our parable, it is a sad truth that many people will one day approach the door to Heaven only to find it firmly shut. And like the foolish bridesmaids in verse 12, they will hear the Lord say to them those terrible words: “I don’t know you, depart from me”.

If you are a football fan, you will know that a controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system has been introduced over the past couple of seasons. Video replays are now used to help human referees make the right decision. And once he’s made his decision, referee’s verdict is final, whether a team likes it or not.

When he returns, the Lord Jesus’ verdict on every individual will also be final, whether we like it or not. And unlike some football referees decisions, Jesus’ final judgement will be perfectly fair, totally accurate and completely just. There will be no need for a video replay, no need for a second opinion.

In our passage today, the 5 wise bridesmaids were ready to meet the groom and made it into his wedding feast. In a similar way those who know Jesus and are ready to meet him can look forward to an eternity of joy and celebration in Heaven. On earth even the best weddings last only a few hours – but in Heaven, the party will never end!

Christ’s delay is deliberate!

But why are we waiting? What’s holding Christ back from coming again. After the year we’ve had, many of us are eager for the world to come – a world without death and disease. A world of perfect freedom.

But Jesus’ delay is deliberate. He hasn’t forgetten all about us. As 2 Peter 3:9 says “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Sometimes the start of a sports match is delayed until all the spectators have arrived, sometimes a music concert doesn’t begin until capacity is reached, and sometimes a plane waits to depart until all its passengers are accounted for.

Similarly, Christ won’t return until the maximum number of people have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and respond to it one way or the other. I’m personally very grateful that Jesus didn’t come back 30 years ago, otherwise I would have missed out on his wedding feast. He was being patient with me. And he is still being patient today, waiting for our family, friends and colleagues to come to him before its too late. Have we told them the Gospel recently, I wonder?

Are we ready for his return?

But like the bridegroom in our passage, Jesus won’t wait forever; his patience will come to an end. And when Jesus does return it will be sudden, just like the bridegroom’s sudden appearance in our parable. We cannot know “the day or the hour”, so must be like the five wise bridesmaids in our passage – ready to meet him, whenever that may be.

In our parable the five bridesmaids who made it into the wedding feast are called ‘wise’. And we also need to be wise as we wait for Christ’s return. But for us wisdom does not consist in having spare oil for our lamps. The wisdom that Jesus will look for when he returns is repentance and faith in him.

If we have this faith, then the gates of Heaven will swing open before us one day, and we will hear Jesus say to us these wonderful words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

So on this Advent Sunday, as we wait for Christ to come back, let’s make sure we are ready to meet him – with hearts full of faith and mouths eager to share the good news!

Phil Weston