I love the Christmas season. I love the music. I love the lights. I love the climax of college football. And I especially love presents (both giving and receiving).
And while I know that Christmas has its share of legitimate, substantive challenges for people, one of the hard parts for me is waiting for Christmas Day. It was true for me as a child, and it’s true for me even now. I’m on my 39th Christmas, and I’d say the odds are 3-to-1 that everyone I’ve given gifts to opens them early because I pester them about it.
I don’t feel the same about Groundhog’s Day. I have to look on my calendar every year to figure out when Groundhog’s Day will be. I don’t eagerly anticipate its arrival by playing season-related music for 30 days—I have to be reminded that Groundhog Day exists, and that reminder usually takes place that very day if not a few days after.
Christmas? I wait with eager expectation.
Groundhog Day? I barely even know it exists.
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 is a lesson on waiting well. The application of the parable is simply this: do we look to Jesus’ second coming the way one might look forward to Christmas, or do we look to it in the way we might Groundhog’s Day?
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The rather frightening irony of this parable is that the ten virgins are virtually the same.
- All had been invited to the banquet, which is to say, all had heard the gospel.
- All were excited about the wedding banquet, which is to say, they viewed Jesus’ second coming positively.
- All confessed Jesus as Lord.
- All fell asleep in the delay of Jesus’ return, not unlike Jesus’ disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
These similarities are unsettling because if I described to you a person who had heard the gospel, responded positively to the gospel, looked forward to Jesus’ return, but didn’t obey Jesus perfectly, you’d say that person was a Christian.
But you could very well be wrong.
There’s a crucial difference between half of these virgins and the other half: PREPARATION.
Which raises a very important question: How can we know that we are prepared before it’s too late?
I think the answer in part is how we respond to crises, as Jesus’ second and final return will indeed be a crises.
William Taylor agrees.
Nothing will more correctly reveal what is in a man than the coming upon him of some crushing and unlooked-for crisis. Let it be temporal ruin by the failure of his calculations or the disappointment of all his hopes; let it be the entrance of the death-angel into his home and the removal from it of his nearest and dearest earthly friend; let it be his own prostration by some serious illness which puts him face to face with his dissolution, and forthwith the extent of his resources is unfolded, and it is at once discovered both by others and by himself whether he is animated by unfailing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, or whether he has been deceiving himself, all the while relying on some other support. A man has only as much religion as he can command in trial.
Let us therefore look back upon the past and analyze our experiences at such testing times as those to which I have referred. We have all had them. We have all heard already, in some form or other, this midnight cry, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh”; for in every such surprise as those which I have described, Jesus was coming to us. How did we meet him then? Did our lamps go out? Or were we able to trim them and keep them burning brightly all through? Oh, if by any such event we discovered our utter resourcelessness, let us betake ourselves now to Christ that he may thoroughly renew us by his Holy Spirit and so prepare us for that last and solemnest crisis when over the graves of the slumbering dead the archangel shall cry out, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,” and all shall arise to stand before his great white throne.
May God lead you and I to view Jesus’ coming like we do Christmas. May we prepare and enjoy the wait until that day comes.
Otherwise, we may not really be looking forward to it at all.