Saturday, December 3 – 10-alarm fire in Cambridge, MA displaces 166 people.
Saturday, December 10 – Explosions outside football (soccer) stadium in Istanbul kills many. Turkey declares Sunday a national day of mourning for the country.
Sunday, December 11 – Terrorist attack in Coptic Church kills over 25 people with many more wounded. Most of the victims are women and children.
Sunday, December 11 – At least 160 dead when church in Nigeria collapses.
The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came suddenly in the middle of what had been a calm sea.
After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.
The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.
Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.
It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.
Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.
The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?
My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.
Explosions, bombs, faulty construction, fires, a never-ending war in Syria, refugees by the million, continued persecution of Christians in the Middle East; people fleeing homes only to drown at sea — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will the Prince of Peace reign? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?
I texted an Egyptian friend yesterday when I heard about the bomb at the cathedral. She had invited me to the cathedral during our recent trip to Egypt and because of timing, we couldn’t go. “What can we do?” I typed out. Her immediate response “Pray. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the grieving. Pray for us.”
My heart is grieving for Egypt and Turkey. It is also heavy for my own stuff – my own grief and sadness. Perhaps yours is as well.
The world is waiting for the fourth watch. I am waiting for the fourth watch.
Many years ago there was a group of people who were waiting. There had been four hundred years of silence; four hundred years where there were no prophets, no mouth pieces of God. Four hundred years of history and oppression and finally, occupation by Rome. It was surely the fourth watch when Jesus came as a little baby, insignificant, another male child at the time of a census. The significant marks of his birth were seen later — a virgin birth, a star in the East, and an angel’s song to shepherds. Perhaps people like you and me were saying the same things that we say during these days of grief and loss.
It’s gone on too long.
When will peace come?
When will evil be conquered?
When will God intervene?
I’m reminded of this on this Monday morning. We are weary. We are waiting for the fourth watch. We are waiting for the words: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
May it be so.
*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14: 23-47.
[Note: this post was adapted from a previously written piece.]