The conventional wisdom is that nobody saw it coming, that when the attack began on a quiet Sunday morning some 79 years ago today that it came as a complete surprise to the naval forces stationed on the otherwise paradisiacal island. But the vulnerabilities of Hawaii had been well known for decades, and almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a coded cablegram reported that Japanese military forces were planning a preemptory mass attack there to keep the Pacific Fleet from interfering with its expansion across Southeast Asia.
Likewise, on March 31, 1941, a Navy report suggested that if Japan made war on the U.S. that they would attack Pearl Harbor without warning one early dawn, using aircraft from a maximum of six carriers, exactly what they did. And intercepted cables between Toyko and their ambassador in Washington suggested that Japan might indeed be gearing up to bomb the island on Sunday, November 30, one week before the actual attack took place. A confidential memo from Naval Intelligence was likewise delivered to the President’s desk that same week, cautioning that the Japanese were focused on assessing American strength in Hawaii. But in the end, of course, nobody believed that something so bold or massive could actually occur.
Perhaps that’s why when a large fleet of aircraft appeared on the radar at 7:02 a.m. on that December 7, it was dismissed as just a flight of U.S. B-17 bombers due to arrive in from the mainland. Within just forty-six minutes, however, the first wave of more than 180 Japanese planes appeared in the otherwise quiet skies. And when it was all over some ninety minutes later, of the approximately 100 American ships in the harbor that day, eight battleships were damaged with five sunk and 188 American aircraft were destroyed. More significantly, 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians lost their lives, with the wounded numbering some 1,178.
The President called it a “day that will live in infamy” and the fact that we still remember it almost eight decades later suggests that he was right. But Pearl Harbor also reminds us that it’s remarkably easy to ignore the warnings of others sometimes, especially when we may be caught up in the frantic frenzy of our daily lives, or blindsided by false confidence about our own supposedly superior strength.
And in that respect, Advent is not only a season for remembering when Christ first came to earth as a child, but for anticipating His return as the King of Glory one day as well. For indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah is suggested in hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, and it’s a major theme in both Thessalonians and the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Jesus Himself told His followers to keep watch, and Paul repeated that same admonition to stay awake for “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
The good news is that for all those who love the Lord that day will not be one of infamy but of simply glory, when we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4.18). And in these months of both mind-numbing monotony and continuing Covid-19 challenges, that’s a promise worth holding onto. Indeed, Advent should remind us that the last chapter has not yet unfolded in the story of our lives. For even if He should tarry, the time is coming when God will not only make all things right and restore all that has been lost in these days, but He will also wipe away every tear from our eyes. So let us “ne’er forget,” as that hymn of old expresses it, “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
And He is not about to be surprised by anything.