In the half-light before the first bird sings;
In the hour when we know not to bless or curse the coming day
—and all that it portends;
Before reveille awakes and the first trump sounds
And the folded flags of a hundred battles begin to stir with morning’s breeze—
It’s then we walk among the trees,
our thoughts all wooden,
our limbs all crossed,
In desperate conversation with our fears
T IS ONE OF THE OLDEST STORIES IN THE WORLD, A TALE WE NEVER TIRE OF telling. Our songs, our histories, our books, our poetry all celebrate this great and yet terrible moment of human existence—the hour that summarizes both the grandeur and the misery of what it means to be truly human.
It is the night before the battle, or put more precisely, those odd, unwieldy hours when we have given up on sleep before the crisis that arrives at dawn. We know this story deep within our bones; we feel its power across the centuries.
It is Elizabeth I pacing the bluffs of Tilbury as Spain’s great Armada lumbers up the English Channel. It is a troubled Dane named Hamlet in the predawn mists beneath the walls of Elsinore. We see Henry V, hidden in his cloak, wandering through the campfires of his men on the eve of Agincourt. We see Gideon, all fears and doubts, creeping into the enemy camp to find some hope that tomorrow will not bring disaster.
It is the father, waiting at the Greyhound station in the small hours of the night for the prodigal who has not yet come home. It is the woman, listening to the easy sleep of the man whose child she carries, wondering what the day of birth will bring. It is the CEO, pacing in the eerie glow of a laptop screen for the FTSE or the DAX to open, fearing the barbarians at the gates of his corporate empire.
And this story that we know so personally and so powerfully in our individual lives is both sensed and known when the crisis we wait for is expected by others—even thousands and millions of others. We guess that there are many others just like us, unable to sleep, eyes fixed on dawn, minds already grappling with those awesome moments we expect so soon.
Across the span of Adventism just now one hears the tread of all that predawn pacing, the restlessness of millions of believers who correctly sense that all this waiting will soon yield in battles both intimate and titanic. The alignments of the principalities have mostly taken place. The hosts arrayed against the followers of the Lamb have been massing strength and weaponry in almost every theater of war: media, theology, science, education, culture, even government. The skirmish lines have long been drawn: we hear the cries of midnight pickets as those who quarrel with the Word push hard on the ground of origins; on the trustworthiness of Scripture; on the sanctity of marriage; on obedience to a seventh-day Sabbath; on the necessity of Adventist mission; on the rights of believers to freely speak and preach their faith; on this people’s historic insistence that belonging to Jesus results in a lifestyle and behaviors different from the world.
Emissaries, some with smiles, recommend that we surrender things distinctive about which Adventists have rallied for a century and a half. The flag proposed to us is not some scarlet banner decked with mystic symbols: no, it is simple, white, and deadly.
So here’s a call to find our nerve in all this predawn jostling—a call to understand that these hours are, in fact, our most vulnerable moment as a people raised by God to be His remnant in these last days. This is a time for visiting each other’s tents; for borrowing each other’s courage; for deep, intense, and honest prayer as we beseech the Sovereign Lord to assure of His presence—and His power—in the struggle just ahead.
The watchword of this hour still is—must be—the Lamb’s unflinching boast: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).*
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.This article was published March 11, 2010.