I have been up most of the night. Duty called. The hours have gone relatively quickly; the silence and solitude have been pleasant.
I was driving a little after midnight, a gibbous moon hanging low in the southwestern sky, pinprick stars dotting the sky even with city lights all around, and thinking of the night ahead of me. I am almost done with the night now, the sun is rising outside, and grayscale tones of night are coming aglow with color. I am still thinking about the night, though.
When awake in the middle of the night—when 3 am rolls around in the quiet darkness—we watch with the sort of expectation that strains to see the slightest hint of color in the eastern sky. We wait for black velvet to ever-so-subtly turn blue—because that means the night is ending. That first moment grows and spreads imperceptibly until the whole sky is aflame with color, clouds blazing orange and pink and the sky a stunning mix of gold and white and blue, until the sun itself comes burning over the horizon in a spray of fire.
That first hint of changing color is a long time coming at 3 am, though. The glimmers at horizon's edge are illusions or tricks or false hopes: city-shadows cast skyward, or moonlight shining on the tops of faraway clouds, or imagination coloring the darkness. Weary, middle-of-the-night minds see dawn long before it comes, are disappointed at how it tarries. Daylight comes in its own time, not the schedule set by a heart longing for an end to darkness. But it does come.
We who follow Christ wait in the dark. When the clock reads 3 am, it is easy to ignore the glimmers on the horizon: we know they are illusions. No clock measures down the hours till he comes again, though; no almanac proclaims the time of his arrival. Christians always wait urgently and hopefully, because the dawn could come at any time. Time and again someone cries out, "Look! First light!" Time and again we strain our eyes to see, and realize that no: this is no second coming, no dawn to end the night forever. The cry was a mistake. Still: the dawn could come at any time.
When it comes, it will not be a glimmer, barely perceived. The age of darkness will not end like nights do, slow and subtle and sure. The sun will leap over the horizon in one blinding moment, darkness crushed out of existence in an instant.
It is 3 am, and we wait with baited breath. He could come at 3:01.