The wise and the foolish waited

Proper 27A

Matthew 25:1-13 

In the name of God and all that is being made.  Amen.

It’s another one of those weeks when the Lectionary readings hit close to home again – maybe even too close.  As we hear the parable of the ten bridesmaids, you’re likely to hear a description that follows your own experience: there are five who are wise, and five who are foolish.  Split down the middle.  No matter how you voted in Tuesday’s election – you’re likely to feel sort of the same – that half the people were wise, and half the people were foolish.  Because once again, our nation has proven to be so polarized, that we’re split, almost down the middle.

But the Gospel reading for today doesn’t stop speaking directly to us and to our experience there.  The sort of “punchline” in this lesson is that we should “Keep awake…, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  It sounds a lot like our experience watching election returns this week – and not just on Tuesday, but for days…  We kept awake.

But the biggest comparison, I’d say, is not even so directly in the readings, as it is in the response of the church that has been seeming to rise up out this reading – and those of the next few weeks – through the last several years.  There has been a movement in the church that has been gaining ground about lengthening the season of Advent.  Where it has traditionally been four weeks – the bulk of December – more and more people have increasingly been arguing that Advent should be seven weeks.  Starting today.  Now, I haven’t studied this issue in great detail, but from what I have read and heard, I haven’t fully embraced it yet.  Because the biggest “justification” I’ve heard from its proponents is that Advent should more closely mirror Lent.  I happen to disagree with that logic on principle.  Advent and Lent are both seasons of preparation, but the spirit and tone of that preparation is very different in each season.  If it’s about elevating the season of Advent, then I’m more likely to be convinced.  But the argument that has made the most sense to me, is that the lessons of the lectionary at this point start pointing us in the direction of more intentional preparation.

Keep awake.  Be prepared.  The one whom we serve, and for whom we wait is coming.

That is a very “Advent” message – a message that points us toward what’s coming.

And that’s where I really see a deeper connection between our own experience, as it came to a head this week, with the experience described in this parable.  This was a week of waiting.

Whatever any of us feel about the results, at least we all understand the waiting.  At least that’s an experience that we share – something that brings us together.  And as Christians, we are also united by the experience of awaiting better times – times when the wisdom of Christ will reign.  Times when the justice of God will overcome the powers that seek to trample it.

And it’s not just about waiting – it’s about preparing.  The old gospel hymns says, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning – the time is drawing night.”

Those who were foolish in the parable weren’t foolish because they failed to wait – they were foolish because they failed to prepare.  The wise ones were the ones who used their time wisely – they waited, but while they waited, they prepared for a future that was expected, and yet unseen.

If there was any blessing that came out of this election season, it is that: that we were moved into a deeper experience of waiting.  And the same is true of this pandemic.  We are waiting for better days – days when we can sing again, days when we can hug again, days when there aren’t layers of distance and fabric standing between us.  Because, in Christian faith, we know that better days are coming.  But we mustn’t just wait – we must prepare.

That’s the message of Advent – and even though we’re not officially observing it just yet, we’re living its truth right now.  And we keep living it all the time – there is always more goodness over the horizon, around the next turn, just in front of us.  There are always more opportunities for justice, blessing, and hope.  That’s why we keep coming back to Advent year after year – because we need to be reminded that the journey isn’t over yet.  God still has work to do in us and through us.  While we wait, we prepare.  And while God waits for us on the salvation side of history, God is preparing us, too.  Amen.